What Snyder did not say about race

Slate's blog on legal issues.
March 19 2008 4:42 PM

What Snyder did not say about race

by Diane Marie Amann

Today the issue of race divided conservatives in America.

Advertisement

In Snyder v. Louisiana , the U.S. Supreme Court reversed defendant's capital conviction for murder of his estranged wife on the ground that the exclusion of a single potential juror -- an African-American student teacher -- violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.  The 7-2 judgment is remarkable.  That's not only because the majority included 3 persons typically identified with the Court's conservative wing: Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., the author; Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.; and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.  Also remarkable is the brevity of the opinion.  Attorneys who have litigated Batson motions, as I have, no doubt will remark on the quick certainty with which the Court concluded that there had been a sufficient showing that the state acted "in substantial part by discriminatory intent" (pp. 12-13) simply by comparing the treatment of the student teacher with that of 2 white veniremen.

The Court left unsaid what well may be a prime source of that quick certainty: Snyder had come to be known as the O.J. revenge case , a case in which the prosecution struck not 1 but all potential jurors of African-American heritage.  It was a case in which the prosecution alluded in his penalty-phase closing to the then-recent acquittal of O.J. Simpson on charges of murdering his ex-wife, and suggested to jurors that they should not let the defendant before them "get away with" it.  All 3 of the members of Louisiana's highest court who dissented from affirmance of the conviction cited this overall context -- as 1 put it, "this injection of racial issues, and the fact that the prejudicial arguments were made to an all-white jury" (942 So.2d 484, 501) -- as evidence that exclusions of potential jurors were racially motivated.

The U.S. Supreme Court is to be commended for what it did in Snyder .  But on this day when America ponders Sen. Barack Obama's profound unmasking of the issue of race , it seems proper to question the decision of the Court to leave so much unsaid.

(prior Convictions posts on Obama's speech here and here

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 8:15 AM Ted Cruz Will Not Join a Protest of "The Death of Klinghoffer" After All
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 9:03 AM My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. And Then I Found Myself With Someone Like Dad.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 8:27 AM Only Science Fiction Can Save Us! What sci-fi gets wrong about income inequality.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 7:30 AM Ring Around the Rainbow
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.