Taylor v. Louisiana 1975

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Taylor v. Louisiana 1975

Appellant: Billy Jean Taylor

Appellee: State of Louisiana

Appellant's Claim: That by excluding women, Louisiana's jury selection system violated his Sixth Amendment right to have an impartial jury.

Chief Lawyer for Appellant: William M. King

Chief Lawyer for Appellee: Kendall L. Vick

Justices for the Court: Harry A. Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Jr., Warren E. Burger, William O. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Potter Stewart, Byron R. White (writing for the Court)

Justices Dissenting: William H. Rehnquist

Date of Decision: January 21, 1975

Decision: The Supreme Court reversed Taylor's conviction.

Significance: With Taylor, the Supreme Court said juries must be selected from a fair cross section of the community, including both men and women.

The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives every American the right to be tried by an impartial jury when accused of a crime. An impartial jury is one that is fair, neutral, and open-minded. The use of juries in criminal trials allows defendants to be judged by their peers from the community.

Selecting a jury for a case is a two-stage process. In the first stage, the court creates a large pool of people from the community to serve as jurors. This pool is called a venire. In the second stage, the court selects twelve people from the venire to be the jury for a specific case. In Taylor v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court had to decide whether Louisiana's jury selection system violated the Sixth Amendment.

Mostly Men

On September 28, 1971, police arrested Billy Jean Taylor, a twenty-five year old convict in St. Tammany parish, Louisiana. (In Louisiana, a parish is a county.) The police charged Taylor with aggravated kidnapping, armed robbery, and rape. Taylor's trial was scheduled to begin on April 13, 1972.

Louisiana had a law that said women could not be selected for jury service unless they registered with the court. Men did not have to register to serve as jurors. The law had the effect of making women a rare sight on juries in St. Tammany parish. Only one out of every five women registered for jury service. Although women made up fifty-three percent of the people eligible for jury service in St. Tammany, the venire of one hundred seventy-five people selected before Taylor's trial contained no women.

The day before his trial, Taylor filed a motion to get rid of the venire. He argued that excluding women from jury service violated his Sixth Amendment right to have an impartial jury. Taylor said a venire without women did not represent the community of his peers.

The trial court rejected Taylor's motion and selected an all-male jury to try his case. The jury convicted Taylor and the court sentenced him to death. Taylor appealed, but the Supreme Court of Louisiana affirmed his conviction. As his last resort, Taylor appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Fair Cross Sections

With an 8–1 decision, the Supreme Court reversed Taylor's conviction. Writing for the Court, Justice Byron R. White said Louisiana violated the Sixth Amendment by excluding women from juries. Louisiana and all states must obey the Sixth Amendment under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Before the Supreme Court, Louisiana argued that as a man, Taylor had no right to complain about the lack of women on his jury. Justice White rejected this argument. He said all Americans, male and female, have a right under the Sixth Amendment to be tried by an impartial jury. An impartial jury is one that is "drawn from a fair cross section of the community." A venire with no women in a parish that is half female does not represent the community.

White explained the importance of impartial juries. They make sure a defendant is judged by his peers. If a prosecutor wants to convict an innocent man, the jury can prevent that. Juries also can prevent a biased judge from doing injustice. A jury cannot properly do its job unless it is the voice of the entire community. Jury service by all members of a community also creates public confidence in the criminal justice system.


I n the Civil Rights Act of 1957, Congress gave most Americans the right to serve on juries in federal court cases. In the Federal Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968, Congress went one step further. It said federal courts must select juries from a fair cross section of the community. The Act specifically prevents federal courts from excluding citizens from jury service based on their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or economic status.

The Act has some qualifications. Federal jurors must be American citizens, eighteen years of age or older, and able to read, write, and speak English. If a federal court selects a citizen as a possible juror, he must fill out a form to allow the court to decide whether he satisfies these requirements. An American who refuses to fill out a juror qualification form or fails to appear as a juror when called can be fined $one-hundred and imprisoned for three days.

Louisiana said it was protecting women from having to leave the important position of taking care of families at home. Justice White pointed out that as of 1974, fifty-two percent of all women between eighteen and sixty-four worked outside the home. It no longer was right to assume that women cannot be interrupted from taking care of a home. The courts would have to handle each person individually to determine if jury service would be too much of a burden.

Justice White closed by emphasizing that individual juries do not have to contain a cross section of the community. That would be impossible to do with every jury of twelve people. Juries, however, must be selected from venires that fairly represent the community. Only then can defendants be fairly judged by their peers.

Suggestions for further reading

Guinther, John. The Jury in America. New York: Facts on File Publications, 1988.

Summer, Lila E. The American Heritage History of the Bill of Rights: The Seventh Amendment. New Jersey: Silver Burdett Press, Inc., 1991.

Wolf, Robert V. The Jury System. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.

Zerman, Melvyn Bernard. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Inside the American Jury System. New York: Crowell, 1981.

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