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Supreme Court declines to weigh whether jurors can be excluded for religious beliefs in case involving lesbian plaintiff

By 37ci3 Feb20,2024

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to consider whether potential jurors in a case involving a lesbian employee could be excluded because of their religious views on homosexuality.

The court dismissed a complaint filed by Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, a Republican, against the state Department of Corrections alleging employment discrimination.

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote a statement saying he agreed with the decision not to hear the lawsuit on legal technicalities, but said it raised important issues.

Jean Finney, an employee, sued the department, saying she was retaliated against by a co-worker after she began having a same-sex relationship with her ex-wife.

During jury selection, Finney’s attorney asked potential jurors whether they had traditional religious beliefs or whether they had been raised to believe that “homosexual people don’t have the same rights as everybody else.”

Under previous Supreme Court rulings, attorneys are allowed to exclude potential jurors without cause, but are prohibited from doing so based on race or gender.

The case centered on two jurors who said they believed homosexual activity was a sin. But the state claims the jurors also expressed their belief that homosexuals should have the same rights as everyone else. The judge eventually dismissed three jurors, who he said were of conservative Christian faith.

Alito wrote that the case underscores what he sees as the negative impact of the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage. He then warned that people who oppose same-sex relationships for religious reasons will be labeled bigots.

Although the Supreme Court has made clear that same-sex marriage should not be viewed this way, “I fear that this admonition is being ignored by our society,” Alito wrote.

The state ultimately lost the case, prompting its attorneys to seek a new trial based on the jury selection process. The Missouri Court of Appeals ruled against the state, and the Missouri Supreme Court declined to hear the case, and Bailey appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The Constitution does not tolerate exclusion of jurors based on race or sex. It should not tolerate exclusion based on religion,” Bailey wrote in the state’s filing. He acknowledged that jurors can be excluded if their religious views prejudice them, but not based solely on religious status.

Finney’s attorneys said in court documents that his sexuality was a central issue in the case and that he was not wrong to strike jurors who were “biased against homosexuals.”

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By 37ci3

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