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Twenty-Five Years of Batson: An Introduction to Equal Protection Regulation of Peremptory Jury Challenges

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On April 30, 2011, Batson v. Kentucky celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. Although not every member of the Supreme Court is convinced of Batson’s merits, there is no movement afoot to overturn or dramatically modify it. A solid majority remains committed to the principles of Batson and its progeny and to the doctrinal framework that gives concrete content to Equal Protection Clause regulation of peremptory jury challenges. While the Court cannot always ensure faithful implementation of Batson, in recent years the Justices have intervened when lower courts have been unfaithful to the spirit of that landmark ruling. The Court has confronted Batson issues on several occasions since 1986. Some opinions have resolved significant questions about the breadth of Fourteenth Amendment constraints upon peremptory challenges.

Others have involved efforts to prescribe the content of Batson’s doctrinal framework with greater precision. Still others have revolved entirely around the correct application of the Batson doctrine to particular fact situations. The twenty-fifth anniversary of Batson is a fitting occasion for serious evaluation of both Batson and its descendants. This symposium’s goals are to document the landmark’s current status, to monitor its vitality, to assess its impacts, and to reflect upon its future. The essays that follow ably accomplish these goals. Indeed, the authors have provided an impressive array of insights into and evaluations of Batson and a number of provocative critiques of its significance and efficacy.

This introductory Essay serves as a primer. The primary objective is to furnish a foundation for the analyses that follow. Part I describes the law prior to 1986 and documents how Batson dramatically altered the legal landscape, highlighting noteworthy facets of the Batson decision. Part II surveys and summarizes post-Batson developments. Part III concludes.



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