What Did Batson Accomplish?

Anna Offit (Southern Methodist University – Dedman School of Law) has posted an abstract of Race-Conscious Jury Selection (Ohio State Law Journal, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Among the central issues in scholarship on the American jury is the effect of Batson v. Kentucky (1986) on discriminatory empanelment. Empirical legal research has confirmed that despite the promise of the Batson framework, both peremptory strikes and challenges for cause remain tools of racial exclusion. But these studies, based on post-facto interviews, transcript analysis, and quantitative methods offer little insight into Batson’s critical impact on real-time decision-making and strategy in voir dire. If we increasingly know what kinds of juries are produced in the post-Batson world, we know very little about how they are produced.

This Article addresses this problem with data derived from a five-year field study of Assistant U.S. Attorneys. Through interviews and participant observation during jury selection proceedings, it provides an unprecedented empirical perspective on how Batson has made race central to the ways prosecutors perceive, pick, and strike jurors. Rather than diminishing race’s influence on voir dire, Batson has made it an essential consideration for prosecutors concerned with their in-court performance and professional reputations.

This race-conscious approach to jury selection has arisen in part due to a clear doctrinal shift in courts’ analysis of juror questioning and striking. This shift has expanded the scope of judicial inquiry during the adjudication of Batson challenges from scrutiny of individual “neutral” rationales for juror dismissals to a more robust comparative juror analysis. My empirical findings indicate that there is a meaningful connection between this latter approach and the incorporation of anti-discrimination norms into prosecutorial approaches to voir dire. Having identified and described this link, it becomes possible to perform a deeper audit of the Batson framework, and suggest, as this Article does, that with reform and expansion to address well-documented limitations, it may serve to close the gap between juries as they are and juries as the constitution would have them be.

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