C-SPAN Radio continues its special series of five equal protection historic oral arguments this Saturday with a 1994 case on gender discrimination in jury selection: “J.E.B. petitioner v. Alabama acting on behalf of T.B., respondent.”
“T.B.” was the mother of a young child in Alabama. She believed that “J.E.B.” was the child's father (the courts used the parents' initials to protect their privacy.) J.E.B. denied that he was the father, so the state of Alabama sued him on behalf of T.B. Alabama wanted to prove that J.E.B. was the father and then force him to pay child support.
In 1991, the case went to trial and the parties began jury selection. The state of Alabama believed women would be better for its case against the alleged father, J.E.B., so it used its peremptory challenges to strike nine male jurors. A peremptory challenge lets the defense and prosecution reject a certain number of potential jurors, without having to give any reason.
Since the resulting jury had no men on it, J.E.B. believed Alabama violated the Equal Protection clause by eliminating men from the panel. He urged the court to extend a decision in a previous case, which prohibited race-based peremptory challenges, to gender-based challenges as well. The trial court denied J.E.B.'s request and went ahead with the trial with the all-female jury, which did decide that J.E.B. was the father of T.B.'s child, and ordered him to pay child support. J.E.B. appealed the decision, but the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals affirmed and the Supreme Court of Alabama refused to review the case. J.E.B. finally took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.