Jury assembly room

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a prohibition against excluding prospective jurors because of their race or gender should be extended to their sexual orientation. (Los Angeles Times)

SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal appeals court decided Tuesday that lawyers may not exclude a potential juror solely because he or she is gay, extending a protection once reserved in federal courts for race and gender to sexual orientation.

The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a jury verdict in a federal antitrust trial that involved an AIDS medication because a gay prospective juror was struck.

Gays and lesbians have long suffered discrimination and should be given the same constitutional protections long accorded to race, the panel said.

“Strikes exercised on the basis of sexual orientation continue this deplorable tradition of treating gays and lesbians as undeserving of participation in our nation’s most cherished rites and rituals,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the court.

The panel called jury service “one of the most important responsibilities of an American citizen.”

“It gives gay and lesbian individuals a means of articulating their values and a voice in resolving controversies that affect their lives as well as the lives of all others,” Reinhardt wrote. “To allow peremptory strikes because of assumptions based on sexual orientation is to revoke this civil responsibility, demeaning the dignity of the individual and threatening the impartiality of the judicial system.”

The Supreme Court barred removing jurors based on race in 1986 and later extended the prohibition to gender. In California, a law signed in 2000 prevents juror strikes based on sexual orientation in state courts. Attorneys can generally get around the prohibitions by simply giving a nondiscriminatory reason.

Thirteen civil rights groups, citing the Supreme Court's June ruling on same-sex marriage, had urged the 9th Circuit to extend protections to gays in federal jury pools.

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