Sexual Morality and Jury Service (Part 2)

by | Apr 17, 2024 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Justice Alito continued: In response to this question, some potential jurors raised their hands, and Finney’s lawyer then questioned them individually. During this phase of voir dire, Juror 4, a pastor’s wife, stated that “homosexuality, according to the Bible, is a sin.” Id., at 38a. But she quickly added: “So is gossiping, so is lying.” Ibid. “None of us can be perfect. And so, I am here because it is an honor to sit in here and to perhaps be a part of, you know, a civic duty.” Ibid. Juror 13 similarly stated that he believes homosexuality is a sin because “it’s in the Bible.” Id., at 33a. But he followed by noting that “every one of us here sins. It is just part of our nature. And it is something we struggle with, hopefully throughout our life.” Id., at 33a–34a. And the fact that it is a sin “has really nothing to do with—in a negative way with whatever this case is going to be about.” Id., at 34a. Finney’s counsel moved to strike these jurors for cause, arguing that “there’s no way somebody [who] looks at a gay person and says you are a sinner” could ever fairly consider a case involving a lesbian plaintiff. Id., at 43a. The trial judge granted that motion. She noted that both jurors said “that they could follow the law,” id., at 45a, and she did not suggest that she disbelieved them. Nevertheless, she concluded that she should “err on the side of caution,” and she therefore dismissed Jurors 4 and 13 because there were “enough jurors left” without them. Ibid.

The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissals for two reasons. First, it reasoned that the jurors’ belief “that Finney’s conduct was sinful (meaning immoral and wrong)” provided a sustainable ground for “concluding that they could not impartially and fairly decide her claim that she was unlawfully harassed due to her homosexuality— even if those venire members claimed that their religious beliefs would not prevent them from serving.” Id., at 78a.

Justice Alito used to be the head of the U.S. Attorney’s Newark Office. One of the prosecutors under him was Paul Bergrin, an infamous attorney who is now serving a life sentence in federal prison.