On a day in 1880 the Supreme Court handed down three opinions that fixed the constitutional law of JURY DISCRIMINATION for over half a century. The effect of the three, taken collectively, barred overt state denial of the rights of blacks to serve on juries and effectively barred blacks from jury service in the South. Anything so crude as an announced and deliberate effort to exclude persons on ground of race was unconstitutional; but if official policy did not refer to race and yet blacks were systematically excluded by covert practices, the Constitution's integrity remained unimpaired. No estimate can be made of the miscarriages of justice that occurred in the South and border states where only whites sat in judgment in civil cases
involving the property of blacks or in criminal cases involving their life and liberty over a period of at least fiftyfive years.
Strauder was a case in which official state policy was overtly discriminatory on racial grounds. West Virginia by statute declared that only whites might serve on juries. Justice WILLIAM STRONG, for the Court, holding the act to be a violation of the EQUAL PROTECTION clause of the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT, declared that denying citizens the right to participate in the administration of justice solely for racial reasons "is practically a brand upon them, affixed by law; an assertion of their inferiority, and a stimulant to that race prejudice which is an impediment to securing to individuals of the race that equal justice which the law aims to secure to all others." The Court also sustained the constitutionality of a section of the CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1866 by which Congress authorized the removal of a case from a state court to a federal court in order to prevent the denial of CIVIL RIGHTS by the state court. Justice STEPHEN J. FIELD and NATHAN CLIFFORD dissented without opinion.
In Ex Parte Virginia and J. D. Coles, the Court sustained the constitutionality of an act of Congress which provided that no qualified person should be disqualified because of race for service as a grand or petit juror in any court, state or federal. Coles, a county court judge of Virginia charged with selecting jurors, excluded from jury lists all black persons. He was indicted by the United States and was liable to be fined $5,000. On petition for a writ of HABEAS CORPUS, he alleged that the federal court had no JURISDICTION over him and that the act of Congress was...