Washington Supreme Court justices yesterday decried persistent racial bias in jury selection and called for new protections against it, possibly including the abolition of a legal tradition that dates back 700 years, reports the Associated Press. Eight of nine justices upheld the conviction of Kirk Saintcalle, a black man who appealed a murder conviction, saying prosecutors struck the only potential black person from the jury pool.
“Peremptory challenges are used in trial courts throughout this state, often based largely or entirely on racial stereotypes or generalizations,” Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote. “As a result, many qualified persons in this state are being excluded from jury service because of race.” Lawyers are allowed three peremptory challenges, removing jurors for no reason at all, as long as the effect is not purposeful discrimination. As did the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and current Justice Stephen Breyer, Gonzalez called for the elimination of peremptory challenges, but no other Washington justices joined him.