Published: Thu, March 21, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Justice Thomas talks at court arguments, 1st time in 3 years

Justice Thomas talks at court arguments, 1st time in 3 years

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made a rare comment during discussions over case concerning a MS death row inmate and racial bias in jury selection.

The justices were hearing a case on whether a white MS prosecutor excluded black jurors in several trials against Curtis Flowers, a black man convicted of murdering four people.

The Supreme Court will decide what evidence Flowers can use to argue the prosecution skewed a jury along racial lines to help secure his latest conviction.

Flowers appealed to the Supreme Court after the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2017 upheld his most recent conviction and death sentence. Among other things, Flowers points out that Evans used strikes to dismiss 41 of the 42 black people eligible for jury service over the course of the trials.

The Times noted that until Thomas' spoke up, the other justices "seemed united in their view that a white MS prosecutor had violated the Constitution in his determined efforts to exclude black jurors". Yes, three in the sixth trial, said defense lawyer Sheri Johnson.

"Except for her race, you would think that this is a juror that a prosecutor would love when she walks in the door", Kagan said to Jason Davis, the special assistant attorney general representing Mississippi.

Thomas is the only African-American on the court and last asked a question at arguments in 2016.

And, he asked, "against that backdrop of a lot of decades of all-white juries convicting black defendants. can you say confidently, as you sit here today. that you have confidence in how all this transpired in this case?"

Together with a radio colleague from American Public Media, she spent a year in Winona, Mississippi, where the case began on July 16, 1996 with the cold-blooded murder of four people in a furniture shop.

The current rule that requires looking at the prosecutor's history is good enough, she said, but, here, the Mississippi Supreme Court didn't do that. "The question is the motivation of Doug Evans".

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First Thomas asked whether the defense struck any jurors.

Thomas, an idiosyncratic conservative and only the second African American ever appointed to the court, signaled through his questions he might vote against Flowers, who otherwise drew broad support among the other justices, both liberal and conservative.

If so, Thomas wanted to know, "What was the race of the jurors?"

Thomas not had asked a question since a February 2016 gun rights case in which he voiced concern that people convicted of domestic-violence misdemeanors could permanently lose the right to own a firearm.

Alerted to Flowers' story by a listener, Baran became fascinated by the case because it highlighted the lack of constraints governing the behaviour of prosecutors in the 50 USA states.

When picking a jury, some potential panel members are eliminated by the judge and lawyers for cause - that they are likely to be biased, for instance, or because they say in a capital case that they could not impose the death penalty. She said there was no way to look at the record and miss Evans's motivations.

Davis acknowledged that the history of the case was "troubling" and the court must consider the history. But when it came to black jurors, there were none left to strike.

Yes, replied attorney Davis, but the local prosecutor would have to request that, and Evans didn't do that. Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked.

The case is Flowers v. Mississippi.

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