Washington, DC – Today, the Constitution Project welcomed the Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision in Snyder v. Louisiana. Allen Snyder, an African-American man, was sentenced to death by an all-white jury for the stabbing of his wife’s male companion. After striking all African-Americans from the jury, the prosecutor in the case urged the all-white jury to return a death sentence and not to let Snyder “g[e]t away with it” like O.J. Simpson did. Today the Court ruled that the trial judge’s rejection of a challenge to the denial of a seat to one black juror was wrong.
“Today decision was a necessary reaffirmation of our nation’s commitment to equal justice for all Americans,” said Virginia Sloan, president of the Constitution Project. “A judge and jury’s ability to determine guilt or innocence should never be impeded by prosecutorial misconduct or reckless appeals to racial bias. That the Court needed to intervene to protect Mr. Snyder’s constitutional right to a fair trial is an important reminder that a great deal of work to reform our criminal justice system remains to be done.”
In September the Constitution Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Mr. Snyder, which concluded that this “provocative and impermissible conduct was powerful evidence of the prosecutor’s discriminatory intent to use his peremptory challenges to purge Mr. Snyder’s capital jury of all African Americans,” in violation of the Supreme Court’s 1986 ruling in Batson v. Kentucky.
In 2006, the Constitution Project’s bipartisan Death Penalty Committee, in “Mandatory Justice: The Death Penalty Revisited,” urged courts to “vigorously enforce[e] Batson … [and] to ensure that members of all races are part of … petit juries that decide guilt and punishment.” The Committee went on to recommend that all “jurisdictions that impose the death penalty should create mechanisms to help ensure that the death penalty is not imposed in a racially discriminatory manner.”