Citation. 100 U.S. (10 Otto) 303 (1879)
Brief Fact Summary.
The petitioner argued that his constitutional rights were denied when he was rejected to serve on the grand jury in his State.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The Fourteenth Amendment secures to a race that through many generations had been held in slavery all civil rights that the superior race enjoy.
The plaintiff, a colored man, was indicted for murder and upon trial was convicted and sentenced. It is now averred that at the trial in the State court, the defendant (now plaintiff) was denied rights to which he was entitled under the Constitution and laws of the United States. Plaintiff argued that by virtue of the laws of the State of West Virginia no colored man was eligible to be a member of the grand jury in the State; that white men are so eligible, and that by reason of his being a colored man and having been a slave, he had reason to believe, and did believe, he could not have the full and equal benefit of all laws in the State of West Virginia for the security of his person as is enjoyed by white citizens, and that he had less chance of enforcing in the courts of the State his rights on the prosecution, as a citizen of the United States.
Whether in the selection of jurors by whom he is to be indicted or tried, all persons of his race or color may be executed by law, solely because of their race or color, so that by no possibility can any colored man sit upon the jury?
It is hard to see why the statute of West Virginia should not be regarded as discriminating against a colored man when he is put upon trial for an alleged criminal offense against the State. It is not easy to comprehend how it can be said that while every white man is entitled to a trial by a jury selected from persons of his own race or color, or rather, selected without discrimination against his color, and a negro is not, the latter is equally protected by the law with the former.
That the West Virginia statute respecting juries – the statute that controlled the selection of the grand jury – is such a discrimination ought not to be doubted. The very fact that colored people are singled out and expressly denied by a statute all right to participate in the administration of the law, as juror, because of their color, though they are citizens, and may be in other respects fully qualified, is practically a brand upon them, affixed by the law, an assertion of their inferiority, and a stimulant to that race prejudice which is an impediment to securing the individuals of the race that equal justice which the law aims to secure to all others. It is well known that prejudice often exist against particular classes in the community, which sway the judgment of the jurors, and which, therefore, operate in some cases to deny to persons of those classes the full enjoyment of that protection which others enjoy.