What does “Jury of Peers” mean in a religious discrimination case ? (US context)

I believe there is a factual answer, but Mods please feel free to move.

Inspired by this thread

So suppose a religious accommodation case goes to trial. (Party A is of Religious belief X and is suing party B for not accommodating). Now suppose that by a stroke of chance, all the jurors turn out to be of religious belief X. Assume that the lawyer for party B knows somehow that all jurors have religious belief X by some independent means.

Can the lawyer for party B ask the court for a different jury, on this ground ?

(IMNAL, and am not seeking legal advice, and the premise/question above is probably not well framed. Please feel free to rephrase or ask questions).

If a case goes to trial, there will be a jury pool of potential jurors, and each lawyer will have a chance to ask them questions. This is called voir dire.

After this question period, the lawyers are allowed to kick off possible jurors “for cause” (meaning they are obviously unsuited for service - maybe they can’t understand what’s going on, or have a medical situation or an unavoidable conflict).

Next, each lawyer can eliminate people “just because”. These are called peremptory challenges, and you only get so many. Important to this OP, however, you can’t use these challenges to eliminate a protected class of people.

At the conclusion of this process, you winnow down the jury pool into your selection of jurors.

If, at this point, one of the lawyers feels like there is a tainted jury pool, they can challenge it. This is called a Batson challenge (based on the name of a Supreme Court case), and traditionally is applied to race (I.e. you end up with an all white jury after all of the black candidates were eliminated).

So, here, a lawyer may say “wait a minute. Everybody is the same religion. I’m objecting to this jury.”

But if the other opposing attorney has reasons for why they kicked off certain people that are not related to their characteristics (in the OP’s case, religion), then the judge will still likely accept the jury. A jury of people all of a certain religion - who have sworn to the court and the lawyers that they can set aside their faith to the extent necessary to be impartial and consider the evidence presented - aren’t inherently unqualified to serve.

This could, and likely would, end up an appellate issue.

(I should emphasize that religion is not as well defined, I believe, as a protected class for purposes of a Batson challenge as compared to race or sex. If somebody is ultra religious, to the point that they said they’d pray about the verdict instead of considering the evidence, I’m sure it’d be ok to eliminate them. But just being devout would not be an ok reason to kick somebody off, I’m sure)

Thank you for the explanation. I understand what you are saying, but in the OP there is presumably a conflict between Religion X’s beliefs and Party B.

[quote=“Moriarty, post:2, topic:978434”]
A jury of people all of a certain religion - who have sworn to the court and the lawyers that they can set aside their faith to the extent necessary to be impartial and consider the evidence presented - …[/quote]

Please help me understand this better. Say Religion X believes to not work on Sunday, and that’s the core issue in this trial. Wouldn’t they (jury members of Religious belief X) perjure themselves by swearing that they can set aside their faith …. ?

Understand, but which party is supposed to bear the burden of proving that the jury member is indeed “only devout “ or “fanatic” ?

Like does law (or precedence) require you to presume that potential jury members adhere to religious scripture of their professed belief?

Jury selection is a huge part of a case, but it’s rarely depicted on courtroom dramas.

In your hypothetical, the lawyers are going to want to ask the jury pool about their religion. With their allotment of time (perhaps 30 minutes to an hour), they will be able to ask individual jurors questions.

The lawyer who doesn’t want people from a particular religion to be jurors will try and get these people to agree that their religion is so fundamental to their sense of self that they will have to automatically defer to dogma. But I imagine the other lawyer trying to get people to say that they would be fair and impartial, and that their religion won’t dictate their verdict.

(I mean, there’s varying degrees of piety amongst religious followers. The term “cafeteria Catholic” refers to people who only accept some of the church’s requirements).

I just think it’d be hard to take the position that just being a member of the religion makes a juror too biased to serve. That a brush too broad for the law to accept.

Why would you assume that ? Just because someone has a religious belief that they shouldn’t work on Sunday doesn’t mean they can’t set aside their faith when deciding whether or not an employer must provide a religious accommodation.

If you are seeking to eliminate a juror for cause, you have the burden of arguing the cause.

In a Batson challenge, the objecting attorney would first need to show an appearance of bias. Then it’s up to the other side to provide a legit reason for eliminating the people they did.

Okay - I get that.

I am asking if it needs to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt what is quoted above. And who has the burden of proving that?

It seems like completely excluding people in an “involved” class would be unworkable and not intuitively just. Suppose the defendant is a brazen neo-Nazi with swastika tattoos. He is accused of murdering a Jewish man. Even though it’s hard to imagine that any Jewish juror would be completely unbiased, it seems equally wrong to exclude all Jewish people from the jury.

Thanks for the post, by the way - very informative.

You’d have to make a record, which is to say you’d have to get the potential juror to agree with this statement, and point to that. You don’t just get to presume the behavior of a juror based on a stereotype.

Imagine the argument between lawyers:

Lawyer 1: “Judge, he said he’s of religion X. He hasn’t missed church in 20 years, and goes every Sunday. He’s going to side with them. I’m asking to eliminate him for cause.”

Lawyer 2: “Yeah, but when I asked him to elaborate he said he really just goes to church because his wife makes him. Remember when everybody laughed when he said that he’d rather stay home and watch football? When I asked him the follow up, he said he would not put his religion ahead of the law.”

Additionally, it should be noted that judges want people to serve. The judge may try to assuage concerns by asking some follow up questions of the candidate, trying to get him to say enough to provide an assurance that his religion wouldn’t interfere with his service.

And then, depending on the verdict, this becomes the basis for an appeal.

Thank you - understand better now.

The key thing is “jury of peers” does NOT mean “jury of people who’re all demographically like the defendant.”

It more means “A jury of people who live in the jurisdiction where the case is being tried. And who’re not actively selected for bias. Much.”

Agree with what you are saying. I also understood that there is no rigorous process to establish the “ not actively selected for bias” part. It is not the responsibility of the prosecution to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the jury is without bias. The whole process is ad-hoc with lots of room for interpretation by the judge/lawyers of both sides.

That’s right. The phrase doesn’t even appear in the court rules or statutes.

Nitpick: I’ve never seen a Baston challenge applied to anything other than race. I don’t think you could make such an objection even if a party appeared to be systematically excluding religious people. (also, Baston objections relate to preemptory challenges, not challenges for cause)

I think that “Jury of one’s peers” is actually a term from British law, where it means that a noble will be tried by other nobles, and a commoner will be tried by other commoners. Here in the US, we’re all commoners, and so the “peers” bit is rendered completely moot.

The term is moot and not used. The concept exists and is used, hence Batson challenge above.

The Batson challenge refers to the act of objecting the validity of a peremptory challenge, on grounds that the other party used it to exclude a potential juror based on race, ethnicity, or sex. The result of a successful Batson challenge differs, but generally it may be a new trial.

Surely the OP was using “jury of peers” in the common language sense.

If successful when made (during jury selection) then a successful Baston challenge just results in the juror being seated instead of excluded. If the trial court improperly denies the challenge, then you may need a new trial.

I assume you know it’s Batson, I think you’ve got a muscle memory thing going on the typo there, you’ve repeated it several times.

The relevant term under the Constitution is an impartial jury. That, among other things, is the 6th amendment.