Hernandez v. New York/Dissent Stevens

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Justice STEVENS, with whom Justice MARSHALL joins, dissenting.

A violation of the Equal Protection Clause requires what our cases characterize as proof of "discriminatory purpose." By definition, however, a prima facie case is one that is established by the requisite proof of invidious intent. Unless the prosecutor comes forward with an explanation for his peremptories that is sufficient to rebut that prima facie case, no additional evidence of racial animus is required to establish an equal protection violation. In my opinion, the Court therefore errs when it concludes that a defendant's Batson challenge fails whenever the prosecutor advances a nonpretextual justification that is not facially discriminatory.

* In Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986), we held that "a 'pattern' of strikes against black jurors included in the particular venire might give rise to an inference of discrimination" sufficient to satisfy the defendant's burden of proving an equal protection violation. Id., at 97, 106 S.Ct., at 1723. "Once the defendant makes a prima facie showing, the burden shifts to the State to come forward with a neutral explanation." Ibid. If the prosecutor offers no explanation, the defendant has succeeded in establishing an equal protection violation based on the evidence of invidious intent that gave rise to the prima facie case. If the prosecutor seeks to dispel the inference of discriminatory intent, in order to succeed his explanation "need not rise to the level justifying exercise of a challenge for cause." Ibid. However, the prosecutor's justification must identify " 'legitimate reasons' " that are "related to the particular case to be tried" and sufficiently persuasive to "rebu[t] a defendant's prima facie case." Batson, 476 U.S., at 98, and n. 20, 106 S.Ct., at 1724, and n. 20.

An avowed justification that has a significant disproportionate impact will rarely qualify as a legitimate, race-neutral reason sufficient to rebut the prima facie case because disparate impact is itself evidence of discriminatory purpose. See Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 265-266, 97 S.Ct. 555, 563-564, 50 L.Ed.2d 450 (1977); Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 242, 96 S.Ct. 2040, 2048, 48 L.Ed.2d 597 (1976). An explanation based on a concern that can easily be accommodated by means less drastic than excluding the challenged venireperson from the petit jury will also generally not qualify as a legitimate reason because it is not in fact "related to the particular case to be tried." Batson, 476 U.S., at 98, 106 S.Ct., at 1724; see Albermarle Paper Co. v. Moody, 422 U.S. 405, 425, 95 S.Ct. 2362, 2375, 45 L.Ed.2d 280 (1975) (availability of nondiscriminatory alternative is evidence of discriminatory motive). Cf. also Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469, 507, 109 S.Ct. 706, 728, 102 L.Ed.2d 854 (1989) (State cannot make race-based distinctions if there are equally effective nondiscriminatory alternatives). And, as in any other equal protection challenge to a government classification, a justification that is frivolous or illegitimate should not suffice to rebut the prima facie case. See, e.g., Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc., 473 U.S. 432, 105 S.Ct. 3249, 87 L.Ed.2d 313 (1985); id., at 452, 105 S.Ct., at 3260 (STEVENS, J., concurring); Western & Southern Life Insurance Co. v. State Board of Equalization of California, 451 U.S. 648, 677, 101 S.Ct. 2070, 2087, 68 L.Ed.2d 514 (1981) (STEVENS, J., dissenting).

If any explanation, no matter how insubstantial and no matter how great its disparate impact, could rebut a prima facie inference of discrimination provided only that the explanation itself was not facially discriminatory, "the Equal Protection Clause 'would be but a vain and illusory requirement.' " Batson, 476 U.S., at 98, 106 S.Ct., at 1724 (quoting Norris v. Alabama, 294 U.S. 587, 598, 55 S.Ct. 579, 584, 79 L.Ed. 1074 (1935)). The Court mistakenly believes that it is compelled to reach this result because an equal protection violation requires discriminatory purpose. See ante, at 359-360, 364. The Court overlooks, however, the fact that the "discriminatory purpose" which characterizes violations of the Equal Protection Clause can sometimes be established by objective evidence that is consistent with a decisionmaker's honest belief that his motive was entirely benign. "Frequently the most probative evidence of intent will be objective evidence of what actually happened," Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S., at 253, 96 S.Ct., at 2054 (STEVENS, J., concurring), including evidence of disparate impact. See, e.g., Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 6 S.Ct. 1064, 30 L.Ed. 220 (1886); Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339, 81 S.Ct. 105, 5 L.Ed.2d 110 (1960); Sims v. Georgia, 389 U.S. 404, 407, 88 S.Ct. 523, 525, 19 L.Ed.2d 634 (1967); Turner v. Fouche, 396 U.S. 346, 359, 90 S.Ct. 532, 539, 24 L.Ed.2d 567 (1970). The line between discriminatory purpose and discriminatory impact is neither as bright nor as critical as the Court appears to believe. [1]

The Court therefore errs in focusing the entire inquiry on the subjective state of mind of the prosecutor. In jury selection challenges, the requisite invidious intent is established once the defendant makes out a prima facie case. No additional evidence of this intent is necessary unless the explanation provided by the prosecutor is sufficiently powerful to rebut the prima facie proof of discriminatory purpose. By requiring that the prosecutor's explanation itself provide additional, direct evidence of discriminatory motive, the Court has imposed on the defendant the added requirement that he generate evidence of the prosecutor's actual subjective intent to discriminate. Neither Batson nor our other equal protection holdings demand such a heightened quantum of proof.

Applying the principles outlined above to the facts of this case, I would reject the prosecutor's explanation without reaching the question whether the explanation was pretextual. Neither the Court nor respondent disputes that petitioner made out a prima facie case. See ante, at 359. Even assuming the prosecutor's explanation in rebuttal was advanced in good faith, the justification proffered was insufficient to dispel the existing inference of racial animus.

The prosecutor's explanation was insufficient for three reasons. First, the justification would inevitably result in a disproportionate disqualification of Spanish-speaking venirepersons. An explanation that is "race-neutral" on its face is nonetheless unacceptable if it is merely a proxy for a discriminatory practice. Second, the prosecutor's concern could easily have been accommodated by less drastic means. As is the practice in many jurisdictions, the jury could have been instructed that the official translation alone is evidence; bilingual jurors could have been instructed to bring to the attention of the judge any disagreements they might have with the translation so that any disputes could be resolved by the court. See, e.g., United States v. Perez, 658 F.2d 654, 662-663 (CA9 1981). [2] Third, if the prosecutor's concern was valid and substantiated by the record, it would have supported a challenge for cause. The fact that the prosecutor did not make any such challenge, see App. 9, should disqualify him from advancing the concern as a justification for a peremptory challenge.

Each of these reasons considered alone might not render insufficient the prosecutor's facially neutral explanation. In combination, however, they persuade me that his explanation should have been rejected as a matter of law. Accordingly, I respectfully dissent.

Notes[edit]

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).