Carlos R. Soltero, Partner & Litigation Practice Group Chair is the author of Latinos and American Law: Landmark Supreme Court Cases. He is currently working on his second book which relates to Latinos & the Roberts Court.
On March 6, 2017, the United States Supreme Court issued a very significant ruling reinforcing the central constitutional principle of the right to a fair jury trial free from improper bias. In the 5-3 opinion in Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado, Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority holding that where a member of the jury panel harbored blatantly discriminatory opinions based on the defendant's ethnicity (Mexican), he was denied a fair trial contrary to the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment. At a time when nativist, anti-Latino rhetoric has again publicly flared up, the Supreme Court's ruling reflects its steady hand of stewarding the constitutional principles and commitments to equal protection and fairness in the administration of justice. Like the adage that fraud vitiates everything it touches, so this case reminds us that the infusion of discriminatory animus into the jury system violates the principles of fairness in the justice system. The Court's opinion from the beginning reinforces the central role of the jury in our democracy and respect for the rule of law. The narrow holding of the case is that the "no-impeachment" rule does not prevent considering evidence that racism tainted a jury's deliberation. As the Court has allowed for exceptional review to prevent racial or ethnic discrimination during jury selection in Batson v. Kentucky and Hernandez v. New York, so now the Court has clarified that racism in the jury box, when exposed, will not be ignored. The American pledge to justice for all demands nothing less.