THE Supreme Court said the Constitution bars the use of race to exclude anyone from a criminal jury. The court awarded a new trial to a white man who complained that blacks were illegally excluded from the Ohio jury that convicted him. Five years ago, the court said prosecutors could not use peremptory strikes during jury selection to exclude blacks from a jury deciding the fate of a black suspect. Last term, the court said the Sixth Amendment right to trial by an "impartial jury" is not violated when blacks are striken from a white person's jury. But April 1, in a 7-to-2 ruling, the court said while the Sixth Amendment might not apply, the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment extends across racial lines to prohibit any race -based reason for influencing the makeup of a jury.
"The jury acts as a vital check against wrongful exercise of power by the state and its prosecutors," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. "The intrusion of racial discrimination into the ... process damages ... this guarantee."