Louisiana voters may finally end Jim Crow-era discrimination on juries this November
In Louisiana, just 10 jurors on a 12-member jury have to believe in a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to convict in serious felony trials, even murder cases. Why? It’s a just-in-case-there-are-black-folks-on-the-jury rule that dates to Jim Crow. Its long-overdue ouster is on the ballot in November in the form of a state constitutional amendment, Amendment 2.
Both state parties, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, and a slew of organizations from across the political spectrum have endorsed the amendment. It’s hard to imagine many folks defending this 10-2 rule; no major campaigns have emerged. Just one other state, Oregon, still lets juries convict with fewer than 12. Delaware and Florida’s legal analogs allowing non-unanimous juries to impose the death penalty were struck by their state supreme courts in 2016. Granted, Alabama’s opted not to, but that’s not a state whose standards of criminal justice should be aspired to.
Yet the state constitutional amendment requiring unanimity that’s now on the ballot passed the house by just one vote over the two-thirds requirement. That’s lawmakers voting to preserve the measure, despite zero ambiguity about how it came into being.
Louisiana lawmakers who pushed for the measure’s inclusion in the state constitution in 1898 said it would resolve the problems created by allowing black people to serve on juries, calling it an effort “to establish the supremacy of the white race…to the extent to which it could be legally and constitutionally done.”
Unanimity is just a better way for a jury to operate, the kind of “better” that studies prove. Then there’s the matter of, well, justice. Louisiana boasts the second-highest rate of exoneration in the country. Forty percent of felony convictions over a six-year period involved non-unanimous juries; that 40 percent is the average of the 33 percent of white defendants versus 43 percent of black defendants convicted by non-unanimous juries.
The arguments for keeping the 10-2 measure in place are overtly unjust.