In Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), the Supreme Court ruled that a party may not use a "peremptory strike" to prevent a member of a jury venire from serving on a criminal jury due to his or her race. The constitutional right to "equal protection" of the laws forbids such discrimination, the Court concluded. The Court extended the Batson rule to civil juries in Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., 500 U.S. 614 (1991), and to the exclusion of women from juries in J.E.B.v. Alabama ex rel. T.B., 511 U.S. 127 (1994). But does Batson also bar keeping people off of juries because of their sexual orientation?
Yes, it does, the Ninth Circuit held in SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Labs., No. 11-17357 (9th Cir. Jan. 21, 2014).
SmithKline alleged in the case that Abbott illegally inflated the price of an HIV drug it sold to SmithKline in order to drive customers to another Abbott product. In jury selection at trial, Abbott used a peremptory strike — which doesn't require a showing of "cause" for excluding a potential juror — to eliminate Juror B, a male whose answers to voir dire questions revealed that he lived with a male whom he described as his "partner". SmithKline challenged the strike under Batson, but the disrict court allowed the strike to stand. After a disappointingly small verdict in its favor, SmithKline cited the strike as a basis for the Ninth Circuit to overturn the result. The Ninth Circuit agreed:
We hold that heightened scrutiny applies to classifications based on sexual orientation and that Batson applies to strikes on that basis. Because a Batson violation occured here, this case must be remanded for a new trial.
SmithKline, slip op. at 39.
For more on Batson in the Ninth Circuit, see "Striking Alaska Native from Civil Jury Violated Batson".