By PEDRO ALFONSO TREVINO JR.
Southern University Law Cente
The 16th Amendment guarantees an impartial jury. A fair cross-section representation of the community is designed to protect this right. This is achieved by compiling a list of persons in the area eligible for jury service. A court must enforce procedures to ensure a jury is substantially proportional to the population. Legal standards are not self-executing. They must be implemented by humans.
Some humans have devised a system of calling prospective jurors that excludes segments of the community. These court officials use voter registration lists as a starting point for selecting potential jurors. Tactics to suppress the vote of minorities, especially African Americans, question the use of voter registration lists for jury service. Disguised as a maintenance practice, some states purge registration lists for almost any reason, like not voting for an election or failure to return a verification notice. According to the Brennan Center, almost 16 million voters were removed from registration lists from 2014-2016. When court clerks do their maintenance practices, purging voters from registration lists results in their subsequent removal from jury lists. Thus, this system allows voter suppression to infect the jury selection process.
Recent Louisiana litigation exposes the consequence of parasitically binding juror qualifications with voter registration. In that instance, 8,000 random citizens were mailed questionnaires from the 60,000 randomly pulled from the active voter list. This resulted in a dismal rate of 19.26% potential Black jurors where the district’s population of Blacks is 31.1%.
Solutions are in generous supply. Courts can supplement the voter registration lists with other databases, such as utility bills or tax filings. To gather a more accurate jury list, states like New York and Idaho have enacted similar laws that use income tax forms, along with lists of property taxpayers, and utility customers to make their jury lists.
These lists have one thing in common that voter registration lists lack: a requirement. Water, electric, and other utilities require monthly or biweekly payments. Annually proven by the Internal Revenue Service, paying taxes is more of a national necessity than celebrating the 4th of July. However, voter registration remains an optional duty subject to suppression.
African Americans in Louisiana know their votes have never been welcomed. If they ever forget, all they need is a quick memory of the Opelousas massacre, the Colfax massacre, the New Orleans massacre or the incalculable number of lynching’s that resulted from Whites who refused to allow African Americans to exercise their state and federal right to vote. Now, they must confront the fact that there is a nonviolent aspect to voter suppression. It reports to jury duty.
Pedro Alfonso Trevino Jr. is a Law & Racism student, enrolled at the Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge.