Professor Forman '92 Cited in Scotus Decision on Racial Bias Among Jurors

In a Supreme Court decision ruling that racial bias among jurors may require a new trial, Justices cited the work of Professor James Forman Jr., in coming to their conclusion.

In the 5-3 decision, the High Court ruled for the first time that reports of racist comments by jurors may require setting aside a verdict and ordering a new trial. In coming to this conclusion, the order cited passages from Professor Forman’s paper Juries and Race in the Nineteenth Century, 113 Yale L. J. 895, (2004).

The decision quotes one passage that states, “Almost immediately after the Civil War, the South began a practice that would continue for many decades: All-white juries punished black defendants particularly harshly, while simultaneously refusing to punish violence by whites, including Ku Klux Klan members, against blacks and Republicans.”

It further references a statistic from Professor Forman’s work that in the years 1865 and 1866, all-white juries in Texas decided a total of 500 prosecutions of white defendants charged with killing African-Americans, and all 500 were acquitted.

The opinion outlines how these outcomes challenged the American belief that “jury was a bulwark of liberty,” another idea referenced from Forman’s article, and noted how it led to Congress passing legislation to integrate the jury system and to bar a person from eligibility if they had conspired to deny the rights of African Americans.

The decision was issued on March 6, 2017, and was written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. The order means that courts must make an exception to the rule that jury deliberations should always be secret when it becomes clear that those discussions were influenced by racial bias. The case arose from statements made during jury deliberations in a 2010 sexual assault trial.

Forman said that the article had grown out of a paper he wrote while he was a student at Yale Law School under the supervision of Professor Akhil Reed Amar.

Professor Forman teaches and writes in the areas of criminal procedure and criminal law policy, constitutional law, juvenile justice, and education law and policy. Prior to teaching, Forman was a public defender and co-founder of the Maya Angelou Public Charter School. Professor Forman’s book, titled Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, will be published on April 18, by Farrar Straus and Giroux.