In announcing that it will eliminate “peremptory challenges,” a practice that allows trial lawyers to remove jurors from a case, often for arbitrary or ill-defined reasons, Arizona’s conservative state Supreme Court took a surprising step that could lead to juries in that state being more racially diverse, and thus less likely to treat racial minorities more harshly, reports Vox. Arizona will be the first state to eliminate peremptory challenges entirely; the state’s new rules will take effect in January 2022.
People of color are less likely to serve on juries for a wide range of reasons — racial minorities are less likely than white people, for example, to appear on voter registration and vehicle registration lists, which many jurisdictions use to develop a pool of potential jurors. But federal data show that “in criminal cases, the proportion of white jurors seated varied only 3 percent from their representation in the population.” Meanwhile, “black jurors were underrepresented by 16 percent, Native American jurors were underrepresented by 51 percent and Hispanic jurors were underrepresented by 21 percent.” The upshot of the Arizona Supreme Court’s new rules is that racial discrimination through peremptory strikes will cease to exist in Arizona because peremptory strikes will themselves cease to exist. But the new rules were also criticized by prosecutors and at least some defense lawyers because they will take away a tool that can potentially be used to screen out biased jurors.