Batson v. Kentucky

1986 United States Supreme Court case

Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), was a landmark decision in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that a prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges in a criminal case may not be used to exclude jurors based solely on their race. The Court ruled that this practice violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The case gave rise to the term Batson challenge, an objection to a peremptory challenge. This is based on the standard established by the Supreme Court's decision in this case. Later decisions have resulted in the extension of Batson to civil cases. For example, in Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Company, the Court allowed private litigants to use this challenge.[1] The Supreme Court also allowed it in cases are excluded on the basis of gender as in J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel. T.B..[2]

Batson v. Kentucky
Argued December 12, 1985
Decided April 30, 1986
Full case nameBatson v. Kentucky
Citations476 U.S. 79 (more)
476 U.S. 79; 106 S. Ct. 1712; 90 L. Ed. 2d 69; 1986 U.S. LEXIS 150; 54 U.S.L.W. 4425
Prior historyDefendant found guilty in Kentucky Circuit Court; Supreme Court of Kentucky affirmed; cert. granted, 471 U.S. 1052 (1985)
Subsequent historyRemanded
Strauder v. West Virginia reaffirmed; prosecutors may not use race as a factor in making peremptory challenges; defendants must only make a prima facie showing on the evidence from their case to mount a challenge to race-based use of peremptories.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan, Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell, Jr. · William Rehnquist
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Case opinions
MajorityPowell, joined by Brennan, White, Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens, O'Connor
ConcurrenceStevens, joined by Brennan
DissentBurger, joined by Rehnquist
DissentRehnquist, joined by Burger
Laws applied
U.S. Const., amend. XIV

The principle had been established previously by several state courts, including the California Supreme Court in 1978, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1979 and the Florida Supreme Court in 1984.[3]



James Kirkland Batson was an African American man convicted of burglary and receipt of stolen goods in a Louisville, Kentucky circuit court by a jury composed entirely of white jurors. The key part of his appeal was based on the voir dire (jury selection) phase of the trial. During this phase potential jurors are examined by the Court, the prosecution, and the defense, to determine their competence, willingness, and suitability to hear, deliberate and decide a case put to them in order to render a verdict. During voir dire the judge can dismiss jurors and both the prosecution and the defense have a limited number of peremptory challenges which they use to excuse any juror for any reason. Each side does this to help their case. Each side also may dismiss jurors for cause (for example, bias).[4]

In Batson, the judge dismissed several potential jurors for various causes. The defense peremptorily challenged nine potential jurors and the prosecution peremptorily challenged six, including all four black persons. As a result, only white persons were selected. The defense counsel moved to discharge the whole jury on the ground that the prosecutor's removal of the black jurors violated petitioner's rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to a jury drawn from a cross section of the community, and under the Fourteenth Amendment to equal protection of the laws. Without expressly ruling on petitioner's request for a Hearing, the trial judge denied the motion, and the jury ultimately convicted the defendant.

The defendant appealed his conviction to the Kentucky Supreme Court, which upheld the conviction. That court cited Swain v. Alabama,[a] and held that a defendant claiming lack of a fair cross section must demonstrate systematic exclusion of a group of jurors from the panel of prospective jurors.[6] That is, the defendant had to show that not just in his case, but as a process, juries in his community did not represent a cross section of that community. Batson continued his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted certiorari to decide whether petitioner was tried "in violation of constitutional provisions guaranteeing the defendant an impartial jury and a jury composed of persons representing a fair cross section of the community."[7]

The Supreme Court's decision


In a 7–2 decision authored by Justice Lewis Powell, the Supreme Court ruled in Batson's favor. The court overruled Swain v. Alabama by lowering the burden of proof that a defendant must meet to make a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination. In Swain, the Court had recognized that a "State's purposeful or deliberate denial to Negroes on account of race of participation as jurors in the administration of justice violates the Equal Protection Clause", but that the defendant had the burden of proving a systematic striking of black jurors throughout the county, that is, that the peremptory challenge system as a whole was being perverted. In Batson the court ruled that the defendant could make a prima facie case for purposeful racial discrimination in jury selection by relying on the record only in his own case. The Court explained:[8]

The defendant first must show that he is a member of a cognizable racial group, and that the prosecutor has exercised peremptory challenges to remove from the venire [jury pool] members of the defendant's race. The defendant may also rely on the fact that peremptory challenges constitute a jury selection practice that permits those to discriminate who are of a mind to discriminate. Finally, the defendant must show that such facts and any other relevant circumstances raise an inference that the prosecutor used peremptory challenges to exclude the veniremen from the petit jury on account of their race. Once the defendant makes a prima facie showing, the burden shifts to the State to come forward with a neutral explanation for challenging black jurors.

The Court also held that:

  • A State denies a black defendant equal protection when it puts him on trial before a jury from which members of his race have been purposely excluded;
  • A defendant has no right to a petit jury composed in whole or in part of persons of his own race. However, the Equal Protection Clause guarantees the defendant that the State will not exclude members of his race from the jury venire on account of race, or on the false assumption that members of his race as a group are not qualified to serve as jurors
  • The peremptory challenge occupies an important position in trial procedures.

Justice Marshall, concurring with the majority, called the decision "historic" but added: "The decision today will not end the racial discrimination that peremptories inject into the jury-selection process. That goal can be accomplished only by eliminating peremptory challenges entirely."[8]



In his dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Warren Burger argued that the court's decision in Batson "sets aside the peremptory challenge, a procedure which has been part of the common law for many centuries and part of our jury system for nearly 200 years". He believed the majority was replacing peremptory challenges with something very similar to challenge for cause, but was unclear in explaining the standard to be applied. "I am at a loss to discern the governing principles here," he wrote. "I join my colleagues in wishing the nation's judges well as they struggle to grasp how to implement today's holding."[8]

Justice Rehnquist wrote that the majority misapplied equal protection doctrine: "In my view, there is simply nothing 'unequal' about the state using its peremptory challenges to strike blacks from the jury in cases involving black defendants, so long as such challenges are also used to exclude whites in cases involving white defendants, Hispanics in cases involving Hispanic defendants, Asians in cases involving Asian defendants, and so on."[8]



Whether the principles of Batson applied retroactively to anyone convicted previously by juries whose racial composition was influenced by peremptory challenges not consistent with this opinion was for a time uncertain. In Allen v. Hardy (1986), the Court held that it did not apply retroactively to collateral review of final convictions. In Griffith v. Kentucky (1987), it decided it would apply it in cases on direct review.[9]

Batson challenge


The term Batson challenge describes an objection to opposing counsel's use of a peremptory challenge to exclude a juror from the jury pool based on criteria the courts have found disqualifying, as race was the sole rationale for exclusion in Batson.[10]

In some cases, parties have appealed a verdict or judgment and asked it be made invalid because one or more peremptory challenges excluded a recognizable group from the jury. Though the Batson decision addressed jury selection in criminal trials, in 1991 the Supreme Court later extended the same rule to civil trials in Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Company. In 1994, in J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel. T.B..,[11] the Court held that peremptory challenges based on sex alone violated the standard established in Batson as well.[12]

  1. See Swain v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 202 (1965).[5]


  1. "Batson challenge". LII Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  2. "J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel T.B." IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  3. E.R. Shipp (28 March 2016). "Peremptory Jury Challenges Face New Tests". New York Times. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  4. "Peremptory Challenge Definition". Duhaime's Law Dictionary. Archived from the original on 21 March 2016. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  5. "Swain v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 202 (1965)". Justia. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  6. "Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986)". Justia. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  7. "Facts and Case Summary - Batson v. Kentucky". United States Courts. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 "Excerpts from Decision on Race and Jury Panels". New York Times. May 1, 1986. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  9. Starr, V. Hale (2012). Jury Selection, 4th edition. NY: Wolters Kluwer. p. 1.07.
  10. Adam Liptak (July 30, 2013). "Court to Decide if Lawyers Can Block Gays From Juries". New York Times. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  11. J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel. T.B., 511 U.S. 127 (1994)
  12. Greenhouse, Linda (April 10, 2005). "The Evolution of a Justice". New York Times. Retrieved July 30, 2013.

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