The Dallas death penalty case heard for the second time yesterday by the Supreme Court could send a message to prosecutors on the use of race in the selection of juries. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday for the second time considered a nearly two-decade-old death penalty case involving a one-time Dallas County practice of excluding minorities from juries. The high court had sent the case of Thomas Miller-El back to lower courts, reports the Dallas Morning News, finding that Dallas County jury selection, particularly in capital cases, had been “suffused with bias.” By the time Miller-El’s jury was selected, more than 91 percent of the blacks in his 108-person jury pool had been excluded.
Yesterday, Justice Stephen Breyer said the court had reviewed the original questions of bias carefully and had concluded “unless something changes, this is something bad.” The case could have a significant impact, said Elisabeth Semel, who directs the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley. A decision favoring Miller-El would “send a strong message” about race and juries well beyond Texas, she said. “Is it going to immediately result in a host of reversals in other cases? No. But is it going to send a very clear message about what is tolerable and what is not? I think it will.”