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Strauder v. West Virginia

"a Brand Upon Them"

In its decision handed down on 1 March 1880, the Court agreed with Strauder that the state's jury system was discriminatory. Writing for the majority, Justice Strong wondered how West Virginia could not be considered to discriminate against a "colored" defendant on trial for his life when all other African Americans were expressly prevented from serving as jurors on the basis of race alone. The Court ruled that exclusion from juries on the basis of race violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which specifically forbid states from withholding equal protection under the law:

The statute of West Virginia which, in effect, singles out and denies to colored citizens the right and privilege of participating in the administration of the law as jurors because of their color, though qualified in all other respects, is, practically, a brand upon them, and a discrimination against them which is forbidden by the amendment.

Despite a dissent by Justices Clifford and Field, the Court ordered the West Virginia court decision reversed and the case remitted. Field and Clifford cited the position they had taken in Ex Parte Virginia, a similar case in 1879 involving the racial composition of juries. The two justices felt that the Fourteenth Amendment stopped short of implying that all persons should be allowed to participate in the administration of state laws or hold public office. Field wrote that the Court should restrict itself to ruling on the correctness of verdicts meted out by state courts and order new trials only if errors were found.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Strauder v. West Virginia - "a Brand Upon Them", African Americans And The Jury System, Further Readings