Yesterday, a federal court ruled that a juror cannot be dismissed based on sexual orientation. The landmark case came from a seemingly unlikely place: in the midst of a contract dispute between two drug companies arguing over the price of an AIDS drug.
A lawyer for Abbott Laboratories used one of his allotted preemptory challenges to remove a potential juror who had referred to a male partner and having friends with AIDS during questioning. The jury that was eventually seated mostly ruled in favor of Abbott.
Because the gay juror was taken off the case without justification, the 9th Circuit reversed the 2011 verdict and ordered a new trial.
In the court’s decision, Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote:
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. They tell the individual who has been struck, the litigants, other members of the venire, and the public that our judicial system treats gays and lesbians differently. They deprive individuals of the opportunity to participate in perfecting democracy and guarding our ideals of justice on account of a characteristic that has nothing to do with their fitness to serve.
The court cited the famous Windsor case that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act to argue that gays and lesbians have the same constitutional protections as African-Americans and women. Law professor Andrew Koppelman told Reuters that the Windsor case has been a struggle for judges to apply to other cases. "The big difference between now and Windsor is a shift in the culture," Koppelman said. "Discrimination that made intuitive sense to people before doesn't make a whole lot of sense anymore."
The price for being treated like an equal human? Also having to serve jury duty.