The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution provides “equal protection” in the eyes of the law. Contextually, Congress passed the 14th Amendment immediately after the United States Civil War as part of the abolition of slavery. In other words, the 14th Amendment is part of the civil rights evolution for minorities living in the US.
The 14th Amendment has undergone numerous interpretations since its inception, particularly the equal protection clause, which became a major flashpoint for years to come. While the 13th Amendment banned slavery, the 14th provided freed slaves equal protection. Initially, a string of US Supreme Court cases ruled that the proper interpretation of equal protection means separate but equal. As a result, segregation was deemed constitutional, provided that it was otherwise “equal.” White people can drink from white-only water fountains while black people were provided “colored” water fountains, etc.
In effect, the US had institutionalized racism and called it equal protection. The black population was not enslaved, but they had to live under oppressive conditions.
Fortunately, change arrived. On a legal level, this occurred in 1954 with the case of Brown v Board of Education, wherein the Topeka, Kansas school district faced a desegregation challenge. With a 9 to 0 US Supreme Court ruling, including the agreement of Klan member and US associate Justice Hugo Black, the interpretation of separate but equal was deemed inconsistent with the equal protection clause.
While the Brown ruling was a watershed moment in the civil rights movement, it also stated that desegregation should proceed slowly. It was a slow process. This led to forced bussing and pro-segregation marches.
While de-segregation was a slow and painful process, it also took root in other areas of law.
Trevino v. Texas
The 1992 US Supreme Court case of Trevino v. Texas was another civil rights case that played out in the criminal arena. A trial court found Joe Trevino, a black resident of Texas, guilty of rape and murder. Trevino appealed his conviction by filing a “Motion to Prohibit the State from Using Peremptory Challenges to Strike Members of a Cognizable Group.” The record shows that the State of Texas struck all possible jurors who were black from the jury pool. At trial, an all-white jury convicted Trevino of the counts charged.
His motion, mentioned above, claimed that this was an irregularity that should nullify the conviction. The case was appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and to the Texas Supreme Court. Both courts denied the motion, reasoning that Trevino did not present sufficient evidence.
Upon appeal under a 14th Amendment challenge, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling, holding that the onus is upon the state for showing a race-neutral reason for striking a juror. While it may be reasonable to strike a juror who belongs to a minority group, it can not be race-based and the prosecution must prove as much.
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(image courtesy of Nathan Dumlao)