THE United States Supreme Court ruled June 3 that the race-based exclusion of jurors at civil trial violates the Constitution, extending to litigants the same protection it had already provided for criminal trial defendants. In 1986, the court ruled that blacks could not be excluded from the jury of a black criminal suspect solely because of race. In April, the court expanded that rule to outlaw the exclusion of members of any racial class based on skin color at criminal trials.
On June 3, the court, in a 6-to-3 decision, went a step further, ruling that the same standard applies to the use of automatic or ``peremptory'' challenges of potential jurors at civil trials.
``Racial bias mars the integrity of the judicial system and prevents the idea of democratic government from becoming a reality,'' Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. ``To permit racial exclusion in this official forum compounds the racial insult inherent in judging a citizen by the color of his or her skin.''
In dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote that while racism is a ``terrible thing,'' it is unconstitutional only when promulgated by the government.
Voting with Kennedy in the majority were Justices Byron White, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, and David Souter.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist joined Justice O'Connor and Justice Antonin Scalia in dissent.