U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Susan Collins (R-NH) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced a bipartisan bill that would prevent discrimination against LGBT citizens during the federal jury selection process. The Jury ACCESS (Access for Capable Citizens and Equality in Service Selection) Act of 2012 would amend the federal statute to include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity," meaning that striking jurors on that basis would be prohibited in federal courts.
"Discriminating against a potential juror because of sexual orientation or gender identity is unacceptable, and it should not be tolerated," Shaheen said. "Our country is founded on principles of inclusion and acceptance and the jury selection process should be no different."
"Jury service is an important public service," Collins said. "Our bill would prohibit potential jurors from being dismissed for service in federal trials based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity."
"The jury box is intended to protect the rights of all Americans by providing a defendant with a fair hearing from a cross-section of the whole community, without discrimination," said Whitehouse. "This legislation will help ensure that LGBT Americans are fairly represented on juries, and I look forward to working with Senators Shaheen and Collins to move the bill forward."
"Arbitrary and discriminatory exclusion of LGBT jurors has no place in our federal courts. We appreciate the bipartisan leadership of Senators Shaheen, Collins and Whitehouse to help ensure every American is guaranteed the right to be judged by a jury of his or her peers," said Allison Herwitt, Legislative Director, Human Rights Campaign.
"Extending federal jury non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity is truly a step forward for the LGBT movement and a notable achievement for the entire LGBT community. We applaud the Senator's efforts for bringing equality to the forefront of the judicial process," said D'Arcy Kemnitz, Executive Director, National LGBT Bar Association.
The United States Code does prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin and economic status. However, there is no federal prohibition on discriminating against jurors based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Currently, California and Oregon have legislation prohibiting exclusion from jury service in state court on that basis. Minnesota has proposed legislation that is pending.
The bill is endorsed by the following groups: Human Rights Campaign, Family Equality Council, Third Way, National LGBT Bar Association, ACLU, Lambda Legal, Immigration Equality Action Fund, Alliance for Justice, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders.