The historic “Shelley House”at 4600 Labadie Avenue in St. Louis was dedicated yesterday by the National Park Service as Missouri’s first official site on the new U.S. Civil Rights Trail. U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay and Aurelia Skipwith, deputy assistant Secretary of Interior, headlined the event.
The U.S. Civil Rights Trail, created by legislation written by Clay, aims to preserve significant places that had critical roles in the civil rights movement in the United States.
The Shelley House was at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court decision (Shelley v. Kraemer) which struck down restrictive racial covenants in housing in 1948. The nationally impactful decision pitted J.D. and Ethel Shelley, a black couple who wanted to buy the house, against Louis and Fern Kraemer, white neighbors who tried to keep them out.
Other notables in attendance were St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, St. Louis NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt, and members of the Shelley family.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a 7-1 decision issued today, the Supreme Court of the United States held in Foster v. Chapman, No. 14-8349, that Butts County, Georgia prosecutors violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution by rejecting two prospective African-American jurors because of their race in the capital murder trial of Timothy Foster, an African-American man who was convicted of capital murder in 1987 by an all-white jury.
Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion, which was joined by five of his colleagues, cited several pieces of evidence from the prosecutors’ files that supported the Court’s conclusion, including the first five names of a “Definite NO” list of six prospective jurors containing the only five African-Americans in the jury pool; multiple documents that identified the African-American prospective jurors by their race; and notes with “N” for “no” appearing next to the names of all the African-American members of the jury pool.
The Court also found that the race-neutral reasons the prosecutors offered for rejecting two of the African-American prospective jurors did not withstand scrutiny because (1) the prosecutors offered shifting rationales at different stages of the proceedings and (2) the reasons offered for excluding the African-American jurors did not result in the prosecutors rejecting white prospective jurors who had the same characteristics that led to the dismissal of the African-American jurors. The Court dismissed one of the prosecutors’ rationales as “[n]onsense.”
“The systematic exclusion of African-Americans from juries, particularly in serious criminal and capital cases, is a problem that we continue to see today,” stated Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The Lawyers’ Committee is pleased with the Supreme Court’s ruling which affirms the longstanding, fundamental constitutional principle that prospective jurors cannot be rejected because of their race. The evidence in this case was overwhelming that prosecutors were determined to try Mr. Foster, an African-American man, before an all-white jury. All defendants are entitled to a fair trial and excluding prospective jurors based on their race taints the process because it means that defendants are not tried by a jury inclusive of their peers.”
The Supreme Court’s decision reversed the Georgia Supreme Court and sent the case back to the Georgia Supreme Court for further proceedings consistent with the opinion. Though he did not join in Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion, Judge Alito concurred in the judgment. Justice Thomas dissented.
The United States Supreme Court will be looking into racial prejudice in jury selection Monday, with the justices considering a case of a black teenager who was sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Georgia, The Guardian reports.
According to the report, lawyers bringing forth the appeal on behalf of Timothy Foster, who admitted to participating in the murder of a 79-year-old white woman in 1987, say that he was sentenced to death because jurors, when recommending capital punishment, did not fairly consider evidence that he was intellectually disabled, The Guardian notes.
The prosecution has long insisted that race had nothing to do with the fact that five black individuals were excluded from the jury in the trial held in Rome, Ga. However, notes found almost two decades after Foster’s sentencing indicate that all the potential black jurors had a “B” marked next to their names by the prosecution, which had recommended the death penalty in order to “deter other people out there in the projects.”
“This is a pervasive problem,” the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s litigation director, Christina Swarns, told The Guardian. “It hasn’t gone away. This is not a problem that is limited to the Deep South.”
The Guardian notes that one black woman, Marilyn Garrett, was ruled out for the jury because she was too close in age to the defendant. Garrett was 34, while Foster was 19 at the time. Another black juror was ruled out for being a member of the Church of Christ, which prosecutors said was anti-death penalty, even though the prosecution itself had notes showing that the church had left such judgments up to members.
If the Supreme Court decides that the reasons for dismissing black jurors were not justified or credible, the case could have a huge impact on the U.S. judicial system, including a legal procedure referred to as the “Batson test,” which requires prosecutors to show nonracial reasons for eliminating a juror if a racial pattern can be found in the pre-emptory strikes.
“The criminal-justice system is the part of society least affected by the civil rights movement: Ninety-five percent of the prosecutors in this country are white,” Stephen Bright, Foster’s lawyer, told The Guardian. “When I go ’round the South [a lot has changed] in terms of who is on the school board, who is on the legislature … [but] I go to the courthouse, it’s just like 1940.”
President Barack Obama hailed the decision, saying “Our nation was founded on a bedrock principle that we are all created equal,” Obama said. “The project of each generation is to bridge the meaning of those founding words with the realities of changing times. Progress on this journey often comes in small increments, sometimes two steps forward, one step back, propelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens,” he said. “And then sometimes, there are days like this when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.”
Anthony Ray Hinton walked out of prison a free man Friday after nearly 30 years on Alabama’s death row. He stepped into the sunshine, praised God and thanked his lawyers, according to CNN.
Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Laura Petro on Thursday dismissed the case against the 58-year-old man. One day earlier, prosecutors told the judge that they couldn’t link the bullets from the crime scene to Hinton, who always asserted his innocence in the 1985 murders of two men.
“All they had to do was to test the gun,” Hinton exclaimed to reporters, “but when you think you’re high and mighty and you’re above the law, you don’t have to answer to nobody.”
Hinton’s attorneys had long said that their client was another wrongfully convicted black man who faced a death sentence.
“Race, poverty, inadequate legal assistance and prosecutorial indifference to innocence conspired to create a textbook example of injustice,” said Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Rights Initiative and Hinton’s lead attorney, according to CNN. “I can’t think of a case that more urgently dramatizes the need for reform than what has happened to Anthony Ray Hinton.”
Prosecutors won a conviction even though there were no eyewitnesses, fingerprints or other physical evidence linking Hinton to the murder of two restaurant workers during a robbery.
Bullets at the crime scene had questionable links to a gun found in Hinton’s home. But tests raised doubts about whether the bullets were fired from that gun and, in fact, whether they were all fired from the same weapon.
On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hinton’s favor, and he was granted a new trial. But the prosecutors struggled to put evidence together to win a conviction in the retrial. Consequently, they filed a motion to drop the charges.
According to UPI.com, Charles V. Bush, the first African-American to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court page, and one of the first black Air Force Academy graduates, has died in Montana. He was 72. Bush’s wife, Bettina Bush, told The Washington Post he died from colon cancer Nov. 5 at his home in Lolo.
Bush, who grew up in segregated Washington, was fourteen years old when he was named a Supreme Court page in July 1954. Bush worked primarily in the anteroom of Chief Justice Earl Warren, who sought the appointment of an African-American. Bush was a member of the debate and rugby teams and a squadron commander at the Air Force Academy, before graduating in 1963.
Bush also served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, overseeing intelligence teams during the Tet Offensive and the Battle of Khe Sanh, the Post said. He left the Air Force in 1970 with the rank of captain. His son, Chip Bush, said the elder Bush left in part because he thought he was overlooked for a promotion due to his race.
Besides his work in the corporate sector, Bush was a diversity consultant to the Air Force and the Air Force Academy, the Post said. His corporate career included work in executive-level positions for companies, including Max Factor and Hughes Electronics. Survivors include his wife, three children, his mother, a sister, nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. To learn more about Bush’s life and career, click here.