How Supreme Court fixed a Racial Wrong

By Stewart Greene May 24, 2016
Justice Clarence Thomas, the U.S. Supreme Court’s lone African-American, provided the lone dissent Monday in the court’s decision to rule in favor of a black man convicted almost 30 years ago of murdering an elderly white woman. A poor, black youth named Timothy Foster was accused of murdering a white woman.
The Supreme Court then reversed and remanded Foster’s conviction, and he shall receive a new trial. It was only in 2006 that his lawyers obtained access to the prosecution’s jury selection notes, which showed that the race of the black potential jurors was highlighted, indicating “an explicit reliance on race”, according to Foster’s lawyers. As to the reasons prosecutors gave for striking black jurors, the court said they “cannot be credited”, because white jurors with the same characteristics were accepted for the jury.
Only conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, the court’s sole African American member, dissented. But the prosecution’s own files “plainly belie the state’s claim that it exercised its strikes in a “color-blind” manner”, Roberts wrote. Roberts rightly called the number of references to race in that prosecution file “arresting”. Foster argued that the state’s strikes were racially motivated. Prosecutors also circled the word “black” next to the “race” question on the juror questionnaires of five prospective black jurors, Bright said. The Georgia courts had the opportunity to recognize the discrimination and grant him a new trial, but they didn’t.
Win McNamee/Getty Images News/Getty Images WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 23: The U.S. Supreme Court is shown as the court meets to issue decisions May 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. This happened just a year after the Supreme Court had declared such actions unconstitutional. In 1987, Foster was sentenced by an all-white jury to death row for the murder of an elderly white teacher, Queen Madge White. The black jurors were rated against each other “in case it comes down to having to pick one”. In a prior interview, Garrett, who is now Marilyn Whitehead, said she felt discriminated against by prosecutors at Foster’s trial. Foster’s case is the rare instance in which the prosecutors’ files contained clear evidence of racial discrimination, Bright said. According to CBS News, the prosecution had highlighted each potential black juror with green highlighter, marked them with a “B”, and added them to a list labeled “Definite Nos”.
Roberts also chastised prosecutors for being “indignant” when they were initially accused of striking prospective black jurors due to their race. Prosecutors work so hard to seat all-white juries because they know what all-white juries mean for trial outcomes. Bright also said Foster’s case is one of many where people have been denied a fair trial because of racial bias in the jury selection. “The new evidence is no excuse for the Court’s reversal of the state court’s credibility determinations”, he wrote. The court has already deadlocked in three cases, including a high-profile dispute over public-sector labor unions. They said that a statement was made by the prosecutor to the jury, stating the death sentence should be imposed to “deter other people out there in the projects from doing the same thing”. The ruling was prompted by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found Florida’s death penalty sentencing system gave too much power to judges, and not juries. Black convicts make up a disproportionately high percentage of death row inmates in the United States. Justice Clarence Thomas, the court’s lone black justice, wrote a lengthy dissent, agreeing with Alito on jurisdictional grounds but also arguing that the court’s findings on the prosecution’s treatment of the race of the jurors were improper