Two years ago, the Supreme Court sent a death-row inmate's case back to the Louisiana Supreme Court with instructions to consider whether the jury selection had been infected with racial bias, says the New York Times. In his closing argument, the prosecutor, having struck from the panel all the potential black jurors, compared the defendant, a black man charged with stabbing his wife to death, to O. J. Simpson and told the all-white jury that Mr. Simpson, acquitted of murder 10 months earlier, had “got away with it.” The Louisiana Supreme Court reaffirmed the murder conviction and death sentence of Allen Snyder. Yesterday, the case was back at the high court.
In 2005, in part because of the influence of now retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the court had begun to apply skeptical scrutiny to lower court rulings that appeared to give only cursory attention to death-row inmates' claims of inadequate legal assistance or racial bias. This time around, Snyder’s attorney, Stephen Bright, was vigorously grilled by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and by Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr. In the court's 1986 ruling in Batson v. Kentucky, the prosecutor has to provide a “race neutral” explanation when questioned about a seeming pattern of racial jury selection. In this case, Bright said “”you can pick each piece out, each leaf out, and you can try to find an innocent explanation for it,” but that race remained the most obvious explanation.