Women’s History Month is drawing to an end, and besides celebrating women’s establishment as judges, we should also remember that women serving as jurors was not always a given. Minnesota eliminated all legislative gender qualification from jury service in 1921, making it one of eight states passing female juror legislation following ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. (A few states had allowed women jurors before the passage of women’s suffrage, but most did not.) On this issue, Minnesota was on the slightly earlier side of progress. At the extremes, Utah allowed for limited female jury service in 1898. Mississippi, on the other hand, did not allow women on juries until 1968, not coincidentally the same year that Congress passed the Federal Jury Selection Act, prohibiting discrimination in jury service on basis of gender. This article from the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library offers even more interesting details behind our state’s history of including women on juries.
Prior to women’s suffrage, women were routinely excluded from juries. The common arguments of the day against women jurors included the predictable; namely that women should not have to be exposed to the seamy details of trials, that taking women away from their children would be detrimental to families, and that women might be too sympathetic to the criminally charged to convict them. In 1879, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld state laws that completely excluded women from jury service. (Strauder v. West Virginia 100 US 303) As recently as 1961 the U.S. Supreme Court would still uphold a Florida statute that required women to register with the clerk of court if they wished to be included in jury lists (Hoyt v. Florida 368 U.S. 57). In Hoyt, a wife was convicted of the murder of her husband by a jury composed of 12 men, due to a Florida statute that only allowed women for jury service if previously registered with the clerk of the circuit court indicating a desire to so serve. The Supreme Court reversed this course in 1975 with Taylor v. Louisiana (419 U.S. 522). Mr. Taylor had been convicted of aggravated kidnapping by an all-male jury chosen from an all-male panel. Louisiana law was similar to Florida’s, in that women could not be seated as a jurors without previously submitting a written request indicating a desire to serve. This time the Court held that women as a class could not be excluded from jury service or given automatic exemptions based solely on sex. The women-have-family-duties argument lingered, but in 1979, the Supreme Court overturned an automatic jury service exemption for women (but not men) who requested one, while indicating that a gender-neutral child care exemption would be permissible. (Duren v. Missouri 439 U.S. 357) Recall from a couple years back that that jury in the George Zimmerman trial made headlines for being all-female. This was in fact rather noteworthy considering that Florida (and most of the South) had been rather slow in establishing women on their juries.
The behavior of jurors as it relates to their gender (or race, age, income, etc.) has long been a much-studied subject. If you are an attorney and would like to select the best jury for your upcoming trial, consider these books:
- Scientific Jury Selection by Joel D. Lieberman and Bruce D. Sales (APA 2007)
- Blue’s Guide to Jury Selection by Lisa Blue and Robert Hirschhorn (Atla Press 2004)
- Mastering Voir Dire and Jury Selection by Jeffrey T. Frederick (ABA 2011)