ADL Urges NY Court of Appeals to Prevent Skin Color Discrimination in Jury Selection

New York, NY, October 27, 2016 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today joined a broad coalition of legal associations, legal experts and nonprofit groups in urging the New York Court of Appeals to recognize that excluding an individual from jury service based on skin color violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. and New York Constitutions.

In a friend-of-the-court brief in People v. Joseph Bridgeforth, ADL argued that color discrimination in jury selection undermines the concept of a fair trial and the integrity of the criminal justice system.  ADL joined the brief by the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality along with1 8 bar associations and non-profit organizations, and 32 law school professors.

“Trials should be based on evidence, not on skin color, race, or national origin,” said Andrew Frackman, ADL New York Regional Board Chair. “Our justice system needs to be committed to operating more fairly and equitably for everyone. The presence of such discrimination in jury selection undermines the very concept of a fair trial and erodes the integrity of our criminal justice system.”

In People v. Bridgeforth, the prosecutor excluded all of the dark-skinned women from the jury, and failed to provide a neutral explanation for striking one of these individuals, a dark-skinned Indian-American woman. 

The U.S. Supreme Court previously held in the seminal case Batson v. Kennedy that a prosecutor who exercises a peremptory strike raising an interference of racial discrimination must provide a neutral explanation for the strike.

This case marks one of the first times a Batson challenge based on color discrimination will be heard by a state’s highest court.

The amicus brief points to over 25 years of empirical research documenting the existence of color discrimination both within and across races, and argues that in other legal contexts, courts do recognize and administer claims of color discrimination.

The nationwide coalition of amici joining the brief includes national and local bar associations representing attorneys from the Black, Hispanic, Asian Pacific-American, South Asian, and Native American communities. They also include national advocacy organizations such as the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), and LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

The brief was prepared by the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.