Sexual Morality and Jury Service (Part 3)

by | Apr 19, 2024 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Justice Alito continued: Second, the court concluded that the jurors had been dismissed, not based on their religious status, but based on their religious beliefs. And this distinction, it said, made all the difference because, in its view, while dismissals based on a juror’s “status as Christians” must comport with strict scrutiny, dismissals based on a juror’s “views” need not. Id., at 81a.

Before us, the Department of Corrections argues that these for-cause dismissals were unconstitutional, and I agree that the Court of Appeals’ reasoning raises a very serious and important question that we should address in an appropriate case. The judiciary, no less than the other branches of State and Federal Government, must respect people’s fundamental rights, and among these are the right to the free exercise of religion and the right to the equal protection of the laws. When a court, a quintessential state actor, finds that a person is ineligible to serve on a jury because of his or her religious beliefs, that decision implicates fundamental rights. Under the Free Exercise Clause, state actions that “single out the religious for disfavored treatment” must survive “the ‘most rigorous’ scrutiny.”

And that is true regardless of whether the differential treatment is predicated on religious status or religious belief. Cf. Carson v. Makin, 596 U. S. 767, 786 (2022). Our precedents make it clear that distinctions based on “religious beliefs,” no less than distinctions based on religious status, must “advance ‘interests of the highest order’ and must be narrowly tailored in pursuit of those interests.” Lukumi, 508 U. S., at 532, 546 (emphasis added).

Jurors can be excused for cause or based on a peremptory challenge by an attorney. Peremptory challenges can be for most any reason aside from reasons related to class discrimination. Attorneys receive a limited number of peremptory challenges. There is no limit to how many jurors can be excused for cause.