Fair Trial by Jury

February 9, 1966

Report Outline
Operation of Jury System in the South
Evolution of the Modern Jury System
Proposals to Modify the Jury System

Operation of Jury System in the South

Johnson's Call for Reform of Jury System

The american jury system, often criticized but seldom modified, is once again under fire. In his State of the Union message, Jan. 12, President Johnson called for legislation “to establish unavoidable requirements for non-discriminatory jury selection in federal and state courts and to give the Attorney General the power necessary to enforce those requirements.” The proposal was aimed at “Jim Crow justice” in the South where, except in some urban areas, Negroes have rarely or never been selected for jury duty.

The President's request came as no surprise. As long ago as last Nov. 16, he told a group of civil rights leaders at the White House that he intended to seek legislation designed to prevent “injustice to Negroes at the hands of all-white juries.” The jury, Johnson asserted, is “the cornerstone of our system of justice.” Thus, “If its composition is a sham, its judgment is a shame.” Six weeks later, on Jan. 3, Attorney General Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, questioned by reporters in Mobile, Ala., said that the Justice Department was preparing legislation to guarantee that “a fair cross-section” of the public would sit on southern juries.

Reluctance to Convict in Civil Rights Cases

The current drive to abolish discriminatory jury selection was sparked by the failure of all-white southern juries to return verdicts of guilty in a number of widely publicized murder cases. Almost 18 months ago, on Sept. 4, 1964, a jury in Madison County, Ga., acquitted two men charged with the murder of Lemuel A. Penn, a Washington, D. C., Negro educator who had been fatally shot from a passing car while returning from Army reserve duty at Ft. Benning.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Jury System
Nov. 10, 1995  The Jury System
Nov. 07, 1973  Grand Juries
Sep. 13, 1972  American Jury System: Reexamination and Change
Feb. 09, 1966  Fair Trial by Jury
Dec. 14, 1955  Jury System
Oct. 23, 1929  Trial by Jury: Defects and Proposed Remedies
Civil Rights: African Americans