District Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) last month sent a letter to the chief judge of the D.C. Superior Court asking him to amend the court’s juror nondiscrimination policy to include LGBT people in the jury selection process.
Cheh, a professor at George Washington University School of Law, pointed out in her letter to Chief Judge Robert E. Morin that the Superior Court currently prohibits the exclusion or disqualification of a potential juror based solely on other categories such as race, religion and ethnicity.
But Cheh noted that the current policy does not extend that nondiscrimination protection to potential jurors based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“This omission puts the court out of step with the District’s Human Rights Act, which provides comprehensive nondiscrimination protection to LGBTQ residents,” Cheh said in her letter to Morin.
“Peremptory challenges or discriminatory treatment based on a prospective juror’s sexual orientation or gender identity and expression are not merely hypotheticals,” Cheh said. “Unfortunately, there are numerous examples of juror challenges, strikes and mistreatment based on the juror’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or expression,” she said in referring to lawsuits challenging such discrimination in other cities and states.
Similar to courts throughout the country, D.C. Superior Court judges may allow defense lawyers or prosecutors to reject a potential juror during the jury selection process for criminal and civil trials based on information that the juror may be biased for or against a person or party such as a business that’s on trial.
Under court rules, lawyers or prosecutors are also allowed what’s known as a “peremptory” challenge or “strike” to reject a potential juror for reasons that the lawyer or prosecutor need not disclose. However, as Cheh pointed out in her letter, in recent years at least four states – California, Colorado, Minnesota and Oregon – have passed laws banning peremptory rejection of a juror based solely on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
The juror laws in those four states and other states, similar to D.C., also have juror nondiscrimination policies covering such categories of race, religion, and ethnicity.
A spokesperson for Cheh said Morin has not responded to Cheh’s letter as of early this week.