The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a death row inmate in Texas who argues one of the jurors in his initial trial harbors an inherent racial bias. The inmate, Kristopher Love, says he objected to one of his jurors who allegedly thinks “nonwhite races” are “more violent races.”
The Supreme Court split evenly down party lines, with the three liberal justices dissenting from the majority opinion. “When racial bias infects a jury in a capital case, it deprives a defendant of his right to an impartial tribunal in a life-or-death context,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was joined in her dissenting opinion by Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer.
The six conservative justices, following standard court procedure, gave no reasoning as to why they rejected Love’s appeal. It is unusual for the court to offer an opinion in such cases, and instead, they typically dismiss cases with no comment.
However, legal scholars can offer some degree of context. Justices John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Bret Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, and Samuel Alito typically rule against appeals from inmates and favor the opinions of prosecutors.
Kristopher Love was accused and convicted of a murder-for-hire plot. During the jury selection process, prospective jurors were instructed to answer a questionnaire, and one of the prompts asked “Do you believe that some races and/or ethnic groups tend to be more violent than others?”
The juror that Love has objected to sitting in his trial answered “yes.” In explaining his response, the juror stated “Statistics show more violent crimes are committed by certain races. I believe in statistics.”
Some critics argue this shows an obvious bias on the part of the juror. However, during cross-examination by lawyers, the juror said that he didn’t believe that people are more likely to commit crimes, and said he based his opinion on reporting and criminology classes. He also told the court he wouldn’t judge Love differently because he is black.
Though Love objected to the seating of this juror, the Texas Court of Appeals said he couldn’t do anything about the judge’s decision, as he had already used both of his pre-trial peremptory strikes. Justice Sotomayor argued in the dissenting opinion that “a previously used peremptory strike does not eliminate the need to inquire into the juror’s bias.”
With the Supreme Court’s rejection of the appeal, Love’s death sentence stands.