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Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado

United States Supreme Court

March 6, 2017

MIGUEL ANGEL PENA-RODRIGUEZ, PETITIONER
v.
COLORADO

          Argued October 11, 2016

         CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF COLORADO

         Syllabus

         A Colorado jury convicted petitioner Pena-Rodriguez of harassment and unlawful sexual contact. Following the discharge of the jury, two jurors told defense counsel that, during deliberations, Juror H. C. had expressed anti-Hispanic bias toward petitioner and petitioner's alibi witness. Counsel, with the trial court's supervision, obtained affidavits from the two jurors describing a number of biased statements by H. C. The court acknowledged H. C.'s apparent bias but denied petitioner's motion for a new trial on the ground that Colorado Rule of Evidence 606(b) generally prohibits a juror from testifying as to statements made during deliberations in a proceeding inquiring into the validity of the verdict. The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed, agreeing that H. C.'s alleged statements did not fall within an exception to Rule 606(b). The Colorado Supreme Court also affirmed, relying on Tanner v. United States, 483 U.S. 107, and Wargerv. Shauers, 574 U.S. ___, both of which rejected constitutional challenges to the federal no-impeachment rule as applied to evidence of juror misconduct or bias.

         Held: Where a juror makes a clear statement indicating that he or she relied on racial stereotypes or animus to convict a criminal defendant, the Sixth Amendment requires that the no-impeachment rule give way in order to permit the trial court to consider the evidence of the juror's statement and any resulting denial of the jury trial guarantee. Pp. 6-21.

         (a) At common law jurors were forbidden to impeach their verdict, either by affidavit or live testimony. Some American jurisdictions adopted a more flexible version of the no-impeachment bar, known as the "Iowa rule, " which prevented jurors from testifying only about their own subjective beliefs, thoughts, or motives during deliberations. An alternative approach, later referred to as the federal ap- proach, permitted an exception only for events extraneous to the deliberative process. This Court's early decisions did not establish a clear preference for a particular version of the no-impeachment rule, appearing open to the Iowa rule in United States v. Reid, 12 How. 361, and Mattox v. United States, 146 U.S. 140, but rejecting that approach in McDonald v. Pless, 238 U.S. 264.

         The common-law development of the rule reached a milestone in 1975 when Congress adopted Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), which sets out a broad no-impeachment rule, with only limited exceptions. This version of the no-impeachment rule has substantial merit, promoting full and vigorous discussion by jurors and providing considerable assurance that after being discharged they will not be summoned to recount their deliberations or otherwise harassed. The rule gives stability and finality to verdicts. Pp. 6-9.

         (b) Some version of the no-impeachment rule is followed in every State and the District of Columbia, most of which follow the Federal Rule. At least 16 jurisdictions have recognized an exception for juror testimony about racial bias in deliberations. Three Federal Courts of Appeals have also held or suggested there is a constitutional exception for evidence of racial bias.

         In addressing the common-law no-impeachment rule, this Court noted the possibility of an exception in the "gravest and most important cases." United States v. Reid, supra, at 366; McDonald v. Pless, supra, at 269. The Court has addressed the question whether the Constitution mandates an exception to Rule 606(b) just twice, rejecting an exception each time. In Tanner, where the evidence showed that some jurors were under the influence of drugs and alcohol during the trial, the Court identified "long-recognized and very substantial concerns" supporting the no-impeachment rule. 483 U.S., at 127. The Court also outlined existing, significant safeguards for the defendant's right to an impartial and competent jury beyond post-trial juror testimony: members of the venire can be examined for impartiality during voir dire; juror misconduct may be observed the court, counsel, and court personnel during the trial; and jurors themselves can report misconduct to the court before a verdict is rendered. In Warger, a civil case where the evidence indicated that the jury forewoman failed to disclose a prodefendant bias during voir dire, the Court again put substantial reliance on existing safeguards for a fair trial. But the Court also warned, as in Reid and McDonald, that the no-impeachment rule may admit of exceptions for "juror bias so extreme that, almost by definition, the jury trial right has been abridged." 574 U.S., at ___ - ___ n. 3. Reid, McDonald, and Warger left open the question here: whether the Constitution requires an exception to the no-impeachment rule when a juror's statements indi- cate that racial animus was a significant motivating factor in his or her finding of guilt. Pp. 9-13.

         (c) The imperative to purge racial prejudice from the administration of justice was given new force and direction by the ratification of the Civil War Amendments. "[T]he central purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to eliminate racial discrimination emanating from official sources in the States." McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184, 192. Time and again, this Court has enforced the Constitution's guarantee against state-sponsored racial discrimination in the jury system. The Court has interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment to prohibit the exclusion of jurors based on race, Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, 305-309; struck down laws and practices that systematically exclude racial minorities from juries, see, e.g., Neal v. Delaware, 103 U.S. 370; ruled that no litigant may exclude a prospective juror based on race, see, e.g., Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79; and held that defendants may at times be entitled to ask about racial bias during voir dire, see, e.g., Ham v. South Carolina, 409 U.S. 524. The unmistakable principle of these precedents is that discrimination on the basis of race, "odious in all aspects, is especially pernicious in the administration of justice, " Rose v. Mitchell, 443 U.S. 545, 555, damaging "both the fact and the perception" of the jury's role as "a vital check against the wrongful exercise of power by the State, " Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400, 411. Pp. 13-15.

         (d) This case lies at the intersection of the Court's decisions endorsing the no-impeachment rule and those seeking to eliminate racial bias in the jury system. Those lines of precedent need not conflict. Racial bias, unlike the behavior in McDonald, Tanner, or Warger, implicates unique historical, constitutional, and institutional concerns and, if left unaddressed, would risk systemic injury to the administration of justice. It is also distinct in a pragmatic sense, for the Tanner safeguards may be less effective in rooting out racial bias. But while all forms of improper bias pose challenges to the trial process, there is a sound basis to treat racial bias with added precaution. A constitutional rule that racial bias in the justice system must be addressed-including, in some instances, after a verdict has been entered-is necessary to prevent a systemic loss of confidence in jury verdicts, a confidence that is a central premise of the Sixth Amendment trial right. Pp. 15-17.

         (e) Before the no-impeachment bar can be set aside to allow further judicial inquiry, there must be a threshold showing that one or more jurors made statements exhibiting overt racial bias that cast serious doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the jury's deliberations and resulting verdict. To qualify, the statement must tend to show that racial animus was a significant motivating factor in the juror's vote to convict. Whether the threshold showing has been satisfied is committed to the substantial discretion of the trial court in light of all the circumstances, including the content and timing of the alleged statements and the reliability of the proffered evidence.

         The practical mechanics of acquiring and presenting such evidence will no doubt be shaped and guided by state rules of professional ethics and local court rules, both of which often limit counsel's post-trial contact with jurors. The experience of those jurisdictions that have already recognized a racial-bias exception to the no-impeachment rule, and the experience of courts going forward, will inform the proper exercise of trial judge discretion. The Court need not address what procedures a trial court must follow when confronted with a motion for a new trial based on juror testimony of racial bias or the appropriate standard for determining when such evidence is sufficient to require that the verdict be set aside and a new trial be granted. Standard and existing safeguards may also help prevent racial bias in jury deliberations, including careful voir dire and a trial court's instructions to jurors about their duty to review the evidence, deliberate together, and reach a verdict in a fair and impartial way, free from bias of any kind. Pp. 17-21. 350 P.3d 287, reversed and remanded.

          KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which GlNSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and Kagan, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

          OPINION

          KENNEDY, JUSTICE

         The jury is a central foundation of our justice system and our democracy. Whatever its imperfections in a particular case, the jury is a necessary check on governmental power. The jury, over the centuries, has been an inspired, trusted, and effective instrument for resolving factual disputes and determining ultimate questions of guilt or innocence in criminal cases. Over the long course its judgments find acceptance in the community, an acceptance essential to respect for the rule of law. The jury is a tangible implementation of the principle that the law comes from the people.

         In the era of our Nation's founding, the right to a jury trial already had existed and evolved for centuries, through and alongside the common law. The jury was considered a fundamental safeguard of individual liberty. See The Federalist No. 83, p. 451 (B. Warner ed. 1818) (A. Hamilton). The right to a jury trial in criminal cases was part of the Constitution as first drawn, and it was restated in the Sixth Amendment. Art. Ill. §2, cl. 3; Amdt. 6. By operation of the Fourteenth Amendment, it is applicable to the States. Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 149-150 (1968).

         Like all human institutions, the jury system has its flaws, yet experience shows that fair and impartial verdicts can be reached if the jury follows the court's instructions and undertakes deliberations that are honest, candid, robust, and based on common sense. A general rule has evolved to give substantial protection to verdict finality and to assure jurors that, once their verdict has been entered, it will not later be called into question based on the comments or conclusions they expressed during deliberations. This principle, itself centuries old, is often referred to as the no-impeachment rule. The instant case presents the question whether there is an exception to the no-impeachment rule when, after the jury is discharged, a juror comes forward with compelling evidence that another juror made clear and explicit statements indicating that racial animus was a significant motivating factor in his or her vote to convict.

         I

         State prosecutors in Colorado brought criminal charges against petitioner, Miguel Angel Pena-Rodriguez, based on the following allegations. In 2007, in the bathroom of a Colorado horse-racing facility, a man sexually assaulted two teenage sisters. The girls told their father and identified the man as an employee of the racetrack. The police located and arrested petitioner. Each girl separately identified petitioner as the man who had assaulted her.

         The State charged petitioner with harassment, unlawful sexual contact, and attempted sexual assault on a child. Before the jury was empaneled, members of the venire were repeatedly asked whether they believed that they could be fair and impartial in the case. A written questionnaire asked if there was "anything about you that you feel would make it difficult for you to be a fair juror." App. 14. The court repeated the question to the panel of prospective jurors and encouraged jurors to speak in private with the court if they had any concerns about their impartiality. Defense counsel likewise asked whether anyone felt that "this is simply not a good case" for them to be a fair juror. Id., at 34. None of the empaneled jurors expressed any reservations based on racial or any other bias. And none asked to speak with the trial judge.

         After a 3-day trial, the jury found petitioner guilty of unlawful sexual contact and harassment, but it failed to reach a verdict on the attempted sexual assault charge. When the jury was discharged, the court gave them this instruction, as mandated by Colorado law:

"The question may arise whether you may now discuss this case with the lawyers, defendant, or other persons. For your guidance the court instructs you that whether you talk to anyone is entirely your own decision. ... If any person persists in discussing the case over your objection, or becomes critical of your service either before or after any discussion has begun, please report it to me." Id., at 85-86.

         Following the discharge of the jury, petitioner's counsel entered the jury room to discuss the trial with the jurors. As the room was emptying, two jurors remained to speak with counsel in private. They stated that, during deliberations, another juror had expressed anti-Hispanic bias toward petitioner and petitioner's alibi witness. Petitioner's counsel reported this to the court and, with the court's supervision, obtained sworn affidavits from the two jurors.

         The affidavits by the two jurors described a number of biased statements made by another juror, identified as Juror H. C. According to the two jurors, H. C. told the other jurors that he "believed the defendant was guilty because, in [H. C.'s] experience as an ex-law enforcement officer, Mexican men had a bravado that caused them to believe they could do whatever they wanted with women." Id., at 110. The jurors reported that H. C. stated his belief that Mexican men are physically controlling of women because of their sense of entitlement, and further stated, " 'I think he did it because he's Mexican and Mexican men take whatever they want.'" Id., at 109. According to the jurors, H. C. further explained that, in his experience, "nine times out of ten Mexican men were guilty of being aggressive toward women and young girls." Id., at 110. Finally, the jurors recounted that Juror H. C. said that he did not find petitioner's alibi witness credible because, among other things, the witness was "'an illegal.'" Ibid. (In fact, the witness testified during trial that he was a legal resident of the United States.)

         After reviewing the affidavits, the trial court acknowledged H. C.'s apparent bias. But the court denied petitioner's motion for a new trial, noting that "[t]he actual deliberations that occur among the jurors are protected from inquiry under [Colorado Rule of Evidence] 606(b)." Id., at 90. Like its federal counterpart, Colorado's Rule 606(b) generally prohibits a juror from testifying as to any statement made during deliberations in a proceeding inquiring into the validity of the verdict. See Fed. Rule Evid. 606(b). The Colorado Rule reads as follows:

"(b) Inquiry into validity of verdict or indictment. Upon an inquiry into the validity of a verdict or indictment, a juror may not testify as to any matter or statement occurring during the course of the jury's deliberations or to the effect of anything upon his or any other juror's mind or emotions as influencing him to assent to or dissent from the verdict or indictment or concerning his mental processes in connection therewith. But a juror may testify about (1) whether extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jurors' attention, (2) whether any out- side influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror, or (3) whether there was a mistake in entering the verdict onto the verdict form. A juror's affidavit or evidence of any statement by the juror may not be received on a matter about which the juror would be precluded from testifying." Colo. Rule Evid. 606(b) (2016).

         The verdict deemed final, petitioner was sentenced to two years' probation and was required to register as a sex offender. A divided panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed petitioner's conviction, agreeing that H. C.'s alleged statements did not fall within an exception to Rule 606(b) and so were inadmissible to undermine the validity of the verdict. ___ P.3d ___, 2012 WL 5457362.

         The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed by a vote of 4 to 3. 350 P.3d 287 (2015). The prevailing opinion relied on two decisions of this Court rejecting constitutional challenges to the federal no-impeachment rule as applied to evidence of juror misconduct or bias. See Tanner v. United States, 483 U.S. 107 (1987); Warger v. Shauers, 574 U.S. ___ (2014). After reviewing those precedents, the court could find no "dividing line between different types of juror bias or misconduct, " and thus no basis for permitting impeachment of the verdicts in petitioner's trial, notwithstanding H. C.'s apparent racial bias. 350 P.3d, at 293. This Court granted certiorari to decide whether there is a constitutional exception to the no-impeachment rule for instances of racial bias. 578 U.S. ___ (2016).

         Juror H. C.'s bias was based on petitioner's Hispanic identity, which the Court in prior cases has referred to as ethnicity, and that may be an instructive term here. See, e.g., Hernandez v. New York, 500 U.S. 352, 355 (1991) (plurality opinion). Yet we have also used the language of race when discussing the relevant constitutional principles in cases involving Hispanic persons. See, e.g., ibid.; Fisher v. University of Tex. at Austin, 570 U.S. ___ (2013); Rosales-Lopez v. United States, 451 U.S. 182, 189-190 (1981) (plurality opinion). Petitioner and respondent both refer to race, or to race and ethnicity, in this more expansive sense in their briefs to the Court. This opinion refers to the nature of the bias as racial in keeping with the primary terminology employed by the parties and used in our precedents.

         II

         A

         At common law jurors were forbidden to impeach their verdict, either by affidavit or live testimony. This rule originated in Vaise v. Delaval, 1 T. R. 11, 99 Eng. Rep. 944 (K. B. 1785). There, Lord Mansfield excluded juror testimony that the jury had decided the case through a game of chance. The Mansfield rule, as it came to be known, prohibited jurors, after the verdict was entered, from testifying either about their subjective mental processes or about objective events that occurred during deliberations.

         American courts adopted the Mansfield rule as a matter of common law, though not in every detail. Some jurisdictions adopted a different, more flexible version of the no-impeachment bar known as the "Iowa rule." Under that rule, jurors were prevented only from testifying about their own subjective beliefs, thoughts, or motives during deliberations. See Wright v. Illinois & Miss. Tel. Co., 20 Iowa 195 (1866). Jurors could, however, testify about objective facts and events occurring during deliberations, in part because other jurors could corroborate that testimony.

         An alternative approach, later referred to as the federal approach, stayed closer to the original Mansfield rule. See Warger, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 5). Under this version of the rule, the no-impeachment bar permitted an exception only for testimony about events extraneous to the deliber- ative process, such as reliance on outside evidence- newspapers, dictionaries, and the like-or personal investigation of the facts.

         This Court's early decisions did not establish a clear preference for a particular version of the no-impeachment rule. In United States v. Reid, 12 How. 361 (1852), the Court appeared open to the admission of juror testimony that the jurors had consulted newspapers during deliberations, but in the end it barred the evidence because the newspapers "had not the slightest influence" on the verdict. Id., at 366. The Reid Court warned that juror testimony "ought always to be received with great caution." Ibid. Yet it added an important admonition: "cases might arise in which it would be impossible to refuse" juror testimony "without violating the plainest principles of justice." Ibid.

         In a following case the Court required the admission of juror affidavits stating that the jury consulted information that was not in evidence, including a prejudicial newspaper article. Mattox v. United States, 146 U.S. 140, 151 (1892). The Court suggested, furthermore, that the admission of juror testimony might be governed by a more flexible rule, one permitting jury testimony even where it did not involve consultation of prejudicial extraneous information. Id., at 148-149; see also Hyde v. United States, 225 U.S. 347, 382-384 (1912) (stating that the more flexible Iowa rule "should apply, " but excluding evidence that the jury reached the verdict by trading certain defendants' acquittals for others' convictions).

         Later, however, the Court rejected the more lenient Iowa rule. In McDonald v. Pless, 238 U.S. 264 (1915), the Court affirmed the exclusion of juror testimony about objective events in the jury room. There, the jury allegedly had calculated a damages award by averaging the numerical submissions of each member. Id., at 265-266. As the Court explained, admitting that evidence would have "dangerous consequences": "no verdict would be safe" and the practice would "open the door to the most pernicious arts and tampering with jurors." Id., at 268 (internal quotation marks omitted). Yet the Court reiterated its admonition from Reid, again cautioning that the no-impeachment rule might recognize exceptions "in the gravest and most important cases" where exclusion of juror affidavits might well violate "the plainest principles of justice." 238 U.S., at 269 (quoting Reid, supra, at 366; internal quotation marks omitted).

         The common-law development of the no-impeachment rule reached a milestone in 1975, when Congress adopted the Federal Rules of Evidence, including Rule 606(b). Congress, like the McDonald Court, rejected the Iowa rule. Instead it endorsed a broad no-impeachment rule, with only limited exceptions.

         The version of the rule that Congress adopted was "no accident." Warger, 574 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 7). The Advisory Committee at first drafted a rule reflecting the Iowa approach, prohibiting admission of juror testimony only as it related to jurors' mental processes in reaching a verdict. The Department of Justice, however, expressed concern over the preliminary rule. The Advisory Committee then drafted the more stringent version now in effect, prohibiting all juror testimony, with exceptions only where the jury had considered prejudicial extraneous evidence or was subject to other outside influence. Rules of Evidence for United States Courts and Magistrates, 56 F. R. D. 183, 265 (1972). The Court adopted this second version and transmitted it to Congress.

         The House favored the Iowa approach, but the Senate expressed concern that it did not sufficiently address the public policy interest in the finality of verdicts. S. Rep. No. 93-1277, pp. 13-14 (1974). Siding with the Senate, the Conference Committee adopted, Congress enacted, and the President signed the Court's proposed rule. The sub- stance of the Rule has not changed since 1975, except for a 2006 modification permitting evidence of a clerical mistake on the verdict form. See 574 U.S., at ___.

         The current version of Rule 606(b) states as follows:

"(1) Prohibited Testimony or Other Evidence. During an inquiry into the validity of a verdict or indictment, a juror may not testify about any statement made or incident that occurred during the jury's deliberations; the effect of anything on that juror's or another juror's vote; or any juror's mental processes concerning the verdict or indictment. The court may not receive a juror's affidavit or evidence of a juror's statement on these matters. "(2) Exceptions. A juror may testify about whether:
"(A) extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury's attention;
"(B) an outside influence was improperly brought to bear on any juror; or
"(C) a mistake was made in entering the verdict on the verdict form."

         This version of the no-impeachment rule has substantial merit. It promotes full and vigorous discussion by providing jurors with considerable assurance that after being discharged they will not be summoned to recount their deliberations, and they will not otherwise be harassed or annoyed by litigants seeking to challenge the verdict. The rule gives stability and finality to verdicts.

         B

         Some version of the no-impeachment rule is followed in every State and the District of Columbia. Variations make classification imprecise, but, as a general matter, it appears that 42 jurisdictions follow the Federal Rule, while 9 follow the Iowa Rule. Within both classifications there is a diversity of approaches. Nine jurisdictions that follow the Federal Rule have codified exceptions other than those listed in Federal Rule 606(b). See Appendix, infra. At least 16 jurisdictions, 11 of which follow the Federal Rule, have recognized an exception to the no-impeachment bar under the circumstances the Court faces here: juror testimony that racial bias played a part in deliberations. Ibid. According to the parties and amid, only one State other than Colorado has addressed this issue and declined to recognize an exception for racial bias. See Commonwealth v. Steele, 599 Pa. 341, 377-379, 961 A.2d 786, 807-808 (2012).

         The federal courts, for their part, are governed by Federal Rule 606(b), but their interpretations deserve further comment. Various Courts of Appeals have had occasion to consider a racial bias exception and have reached different conclusions. Three have held or suggested there is a constitutional exception for evidence of racial bias. See United States v. Villar, 586 F.3d 76, 87-88 (CA1 2009) (holding the Constitution demands a racial-bias exception); United States v. Henley, 238 F.3d 1111, 1119-1121 (CA9 2001) (finding persuasive arguments in favor of an exception but not deciding the issue); Shillcutt v. Gagnon, 827 F.2d 1155, 1158-1160 (CA7 1987) (observing that in some cases fundamental fairness could require an exception). One Court of Appeals has declined to find an exception, reasoning that other safeguards inherent in the trial process suffice to protect defendants' constitutional interests. See United States v. Benally, 546 F.3d 1230, 1240-1241 (CA10 2008). Another has suggested as much, holding in the habeas context that an exception for racial bias was not clearly established but indicating in dicta that no such exception exists. See Williams v. Price, 343 F.3d 223, 237-239 (CA3 2003) (Alito, J.). And one Court of Appeals has held that evidence of racial bias is excluded by Rule 606(b), without addressing whether the Constitution may at times demand an exception. See Martinez v. Food City, Inc., 658 F.2d 369, 373-374 (CA5 1981).

         C

         In addressing the scope of the common-law no-impeachment rule before Rule 606(b)'s adoption, the Reid and McDonald Courts noted the possibility of an exception to the rule in the "gravest and most important cases." Reid, 12 How., at 366; McDonald, 238 U.S., at 269. Yet since the enactment of Rule 606(b), the Court has addressed the precise question whether the Constitution mandates an exception to it in just two instances.

         In its first case, Tanner, 483 U.S. 107, the Court rejected a Sixth Amendment exception for evidence that some jurors were under the influence of drugs and alcohol during the trial. Id., at 125. Central to the Court's reasoning were the "long-recognized and very substantial concerns" supporting "the protection of jury deliberations from intrusive inquiry." Id., at 127. The Tanner Court echoed McDonald's concern that, if attorneys could use juror testimony to attack verdicts, jurors would be "harassed and beset by the defeated party, " thus destroying "all frankness and freedom of discussion and conference." 483 U.S., at 120 (quoting McDonald, supra, at 267-268). The Court was concerned, moreover, that attempts to impeach a verdict would "disrupt the finality of the process" and undermine both "jurors' willingness to return an unpopular verdict" and "the community's trust in a system that relies on the decisions of laypeople." 483 U.S., at 120-121.

         The Tanner Court outlined existing, significant safeguards for the defendant's right to an impartial and competent jury beyond post-trial juror testimony. At the outset of the trial process, voir dire provides an opportunity for the court and counsel to examine members of the venire for impartiality. As a trial proceeds, the court, counsel, and court personnel have some opportunity to learn of any juror misconduct. And, before the verdict, jurors themselves can report misconduct to the court. These procedures do not undermine the stability of a verdict once rendered. Even after the trial, evidence of misconduct other than juror testimony can be used to attempt to impeach the verdict. Id., at 127. Balancing these interests and safeguards against the defendant's Sixth Amendment interest in that case, the Court affirmed the exclusion of affidavits pertaining to the jury's inebriated state. Ibid.

         The second case to consider the general issue presented here was Warger, 574 U.S. ___. The Court again rejected the argument that, in the circumstances there, the jury trial right required an exception to the no-impeachment rule. Warger involved a civil case where, after the verdict was entered, the losing party sought to proffer evidence that the jury forewoman had failed to disclose prodefend-ant bias during voir dire. As in Tanner, the Court put substantial reliance on existing safeguards for a fair trial. The Court stated: "Even if jurors lie in voir dire in a way that conceals bias, juror impartiality is adequately assured by the parties' ability to bring to the court's attention any evidence of bias before the verdict is rendered, and to employ nonjuror evidence even after the verdict is rendered." 574 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 10).

         In Warger, however, the Court did reiterate that the no-impeachment rule may admit exceptions. As in Reid and McDonald, the Court warned of "juror bias so extreme that, almost by definition, the jury trial right has been abridged." 574 U.S., at ___ - ___ n. 3 (slip op., at 10-11, n. 3). "If and when such a case arises, " the Court indicated it would "consider whether the usual safeguards are or are not sufficient to protect the integrity of the process." Ibid.

         The recognition in Warger that there may be extreme cases where the jury trial right requires an exception to the no-impeachment rule must be interpreted in context as a guarded, cautious statement. This caution is warranted to avoid formulating an exception that might undermine the jury dynamics and finality interests the no-impeachment rule seeks to protect. Today, however, the Court faces the question that Reid, McDonald, and Warger left open. The Court must decide whether the Constitution requires an exception to the no-impeachment rule when a juror's statements indicate that racial animus was a significant motivating factor in his or her finding of guilt.

         III

         It must become the heritage of our Nation to rise above racial classifications that are so inconsistent with our commitment to the equal dignity of all persons. This imperative to purge racial prejudice from the administration of justice was given new force and direction by the ratification of the Civil War Amendments.

         "[T]he central purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to eliminate racial discrimination emanating from official sources in the States." McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184, 192 (1964). In the years before and after the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, it became clear that racial discrimination in the jury system posed a particular threat both to the promise of the Amendment and to the integrity of the jury trial. "Almost immediately after the Civil War, the South began a practice that would continue for many decades: All-white juries punished black defendants particularly harshly, while simultaneously refusing to punish violence by whites, including Ku Klux Klan members, against blacks and Republicans." Forman, Juries and Race in the Nineteenth Century, 113 Yale L. J. 895, 909-910 (2004). To take one example, just in the years 1865 and 1866, all-white juries in Texas decided a total of 500 prosecutions of white defendants charged with killing African-Americans. All 500 were acquitted. Id., at 916. The stark and unapologetic nature of race-motivated outcomes challenged the American belief that "the jury was a bulwark of liberty, " id., at 909, and prompted Congress to pass legislation to integrate the jury system and to bar persons from eligibility for jury service if they had conspired to deny the civil rights of African-Americans, id., at 920-930. Members of Congress stressed that the legislation was necessary to preserve the right to a fair trial and to guarantee the equal protection of the laws. Ibid.

         The duty to confront racial animus in the justice system is not the legislature's alone. Time and again, this Court has been called upon to enforce the Constitution's guarantee against state-sponsored racial discrimination in the jury system. Beginning in 1880, the Court interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment to prohibit the exclusion of jurors on the basis of race. Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, 305-309 (1880). The Court has repeatedly struck down laws and practices that systematically exclude racial minorities from juries. See, e.g., Neal v. Delaware, 103 U.S. 370 (1881); Hollins v. Oklahoma, 295 U.S. 394 (1935) (per curiam); Avery v. Georgia, 345 U.S. 559 (1953); Hernandez v. Texas, 347 U.S. 475 (1954); Castaneda v. Partida, 430 U.S. 482 (1977). To guard against discrimination in jury selection, the Court has ruled that no litigant may exclude a prospective juror on the basis of race. Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986); Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., 500 U.S. 614 (1991); Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42 (1992). In an effort to ensure that individuals who sit on juries are free of racial bias, the Court has held that the Constitution at times demands that defendants be permitted to ask questions about racial bias during voir dire. Ham v. South Carolina, 409 U.S. 524 (1973); Rosales-Lopez, 451 U.S. 182; Turner v. Murray, 476 U.S. 28 (1986).

          The unmistakable principle underlying these precedents is that discrimination on the basis of race, "odious in all aspects, is especially pernicious in the administration of justice." Rose v. Mitchell,443 U.S. 545, 555 (1979). The jury is to be "a criminal defendant's fundamental 'protection of life and liberty against race or color prejudice.'" McCleskey v. Kemp,481 U.S. 279, 310 (1987) (quoting Strauder, supra, at 309). Permitting racial prejudice in the jury system damages "both the fact and the perception" of the jury's role as "a vital check against the wrongful exercise of power by the State." Powers ...


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