US Supreme Court declines to hear Missouri case excluding jurors based on religious beliefs News
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US Supreme Court declines to hear Missouri case excluding jurors based on religious beliefs

The US Supreme Court denied a petition to hear an appeal Tuesday concerning the exclusion of potential jurors based on the jurors’ religious beliefs in a Missouri sex discrimination case.

Jean Finney, a worker for Missouri’s Department of Corrections who is also lesbian, sued her employer alleging sexual discrimination and retaliation after Finney began dating the ex-wife of a male co-worker. Before trial, three prospective jurors were removed during the juror selection process after expressing their religious beliefs that homosexuality was a sin. In 2021 the jury found in her favor regarding the claims for sexual discrimination and a hostile work environment and awarded her $275,000 in damages. The Department of Corrections appealed the decision arguing that the exclusion of the three jurors amounted to a violation of the US Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause.

The appeals court affirmed the lower court decision and a writ of certiorari to have the case heard by the US Supreme Court was filed in August 2023. In the petition, the Department of Corrections argued that the jurors were excluded solely based on religious views without any demonstration of bias in direct violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Prospective jurors were asked if they went to a “religious organization growing up where it was taught that people who are homosexuals shouldn’t have the same rights as everyone else because it was a sin with what they did?” and if they were unable to “set aside their religious convictions” in fair treatment of the case. The petition further argued that the questions were improperly asked and that there was a split in authority on the issue of exclusion of jurors based on religious beliefs among the lower courts, a split that required the US Supreme Court to grant a hearing for the case.

While the court declined to hear the case, Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a statement respecting the denial of certiorari that the lower court’s reasoning was concerning. He further criticized the questioning of Finney’s counsel and expressed a willingness to hear a case on the issue with better facts in the future:

I agree that the Court of Appeals’ reasoning raises a very serious and important question that we should address in an appropriate case. The judiciary…must respect people’s fundamental rights, and among these are the right to the free exercise of religion and the right to the equal protection of the laws. When a court…finds that a person is ineligible to serve on a jury because of his or her religious beliefs, that decision implicates fundamental rights.