Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Company
Decided on June 3, 1991


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed:  Governmental Authority (civil procedure), 5th Amendment, jury selection 

B. Legal Question Presented: 

Is the Fifth Amendment violated when a private litigant in a civil case uses peremptory challenges to exclude jurors on account of their race?  Specifically, in civil cases, do race-based peremptory challenges violate the equal protection rights of those excluded from jury service, and does a litigant such as Edmonson have third-party standing to raise those rights?
II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Edmonson, a construction worker, sued Leesville Concrete Company for negligence that resulted in injuries to Edmonson.  During jury selection for the trial, Leesville used two peremptory challenges to exclude black persons from the jury (each party usually has a certain number of “peremptory challenges” which it can use to exclude particular potential jurors for reasons which ordinarily do not need to be disclosed).  Edmonson, who is black, requested that Leesville be required to articulate a race-neutral explanation for the peremptory strikes, so that it could be determined whether Leesville’s actions violated the equal protection provision of the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits racial discrimination.  The District Court refused, on the grounds that the equal protection provisions do not apply in civil cases.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court, on the grounds that the use of peremptory challenges by private litigants is not “state action” (government action) and thus did not invoke United States constitutional guarantees such as to equal protection under the law.  Edmonson brought the matter to the United States Supreme Court seeking reversal.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
James B. Doyle argued the cause and filed a brief for petitioner.

John S. Baker, Jr., argued the cause for respondent.  With him on the brief was John B. Honeycutt, Jr.
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)

Unavailable

Unavailable

III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Steven R. Shapiro and John A. Powell filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union, as amicus curiae, urging reversal.

Julius LeVonne Chambers, Eric Schnapper, Samuel Rabinove, Deval L. Patrick, Marc Goodheart, Robert F. Mullen, David S. Tatel, Norman Redlich, Thomas J. Henderson, and Richard J. Seymour filed a brief for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., et al., urging reversal.

Jeanmarie LoCoco and John J. Weigel filed a brief for Defense Research Institute, as amicus curiae, urging affirmance.

 

Suzanne N. Saunders filed a brief for Dixie Insurance Co., as amicus curiae, urging affirmance.

 

Joseph R. Ward, Jr. and Wood Brown III filed a brief for Louisiana Association of Defense Counsel, as amicus curiae, urging affirmance.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"The Constitution’s protections of individual liberty and equal protection apply in general only to action by the government…  Racial discrimination, though invidious in all contexts, violates the Constitution only when it may be attributed to state action...

Peremptory challenges are permitted only when the government, by statute or decisional law, deems it appropriate to allow parties to exclude a given number of persons who otherwise would satisfy the requirements for service on the petit jury… Without this authorization, granted by an Act of Congress itself, Leesville would not have been able to engage in the alleged discriminatory acts…  It cannot be disputed that, without the overt, significant participation of the government, the peremptory challenge system, as well as the jury trial system of which it is a part, simply could not exist… The peremptory challenge is used in selecting an entity that is a quintessential governmental body, having no attributes of a private actor... The selection of jurors represents a unique governmental function delegated to private litigants by the government and attributable to the government for purposes of invoking constitutional protections against discrimination by reason of race…

Race discrimination within the courtroom raises serious questions as to the fairness of the proceedings conducted there.  Racial bias mars the integrity of the judicial system, and prevents the idea of democratic government from becoming a reality… To permit racial exclusion in this official forum compounds the racial insult inherent in judging a citizen by the color of his or her skin…

[A] litigant may raise a claim on behalf of a third party if the litigant can demonstrate that he or she has suffered a concrete, redressable injury, that he or she has a close relation with the third party, and that there exists some hindrance to the third party’s ability to protect his or her own interests.  All three of these requirements for third-party standing were held satisfied in the criminal context, and they are satisfied in the civil context as well… Racial discrimination has no place in the courtroom, whether the proceeding is civil or criminal… We conclude that courts must entertain a challenge to a private litigant’s racially discriminatory use of peremptory challenges in a civil trial…

The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with our opinion."

Justice Vote: 6 Pro vs. 3 Con

  • Kennedy, A.  Pro  (Wrote majority opinion)
  • White, B.  Pro  (Joined majority opinion)
  • Marshall, T.  Pro  (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H.  Pro  (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J.  Pro  (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D.  Pro  (Joined majority opinion)
  • O’Connor, S.  Con  (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W.  Con  (Joined minority opinion, joined O’Connor’s dissent)
  • Scalia, A.  Con  (Joined minority opinion, joined O’Connor’s dissent, and wrote dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed as amicus urging reversal; the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals' decision by a 6-3 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.