By a vote of 6 to 3:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a black death row inmate who said Texas prosecutors unfairly stacked his jury with whites, issuing a harsh rebuke to the state that executes more people than any other.

More after the break . . .

The state court’s conclusion that the prosecutors’ strikes of people from the jury pool was “not racially determined is shown up as wrong to a clear and convincing degree; the state court’s conclusion was unreasonable as well as erroneous,” Justice David H. Souter wrote for the majority.

In the opinion, Souter noted that black jurors were questioned more aggressively about the death penalty, and the pool was “shuffled” at least twice by prosecutors, apparently to increase the chances whites would be selected.

Just for the record this was the second time the Supreme Court had dealt with this case.  Earlier it had simply remanded to the trial court with instructions that the claims of racial bias be considered on appeal.  The trial court then held a hearing, found (surprise!) there was no bias despite the evidence, and a compliant 5th Circuit Court of Appeals went along with that determination, despite this:

At trial, he was convicted by a 12-member jury that included one black. Prosecutors struck nine of the 10 blacks eligible to serve.

Now if you know anything about appellate law, you know that appeals court judges are not supposed to overturn the decisions of the “finder of fact” (which in this case of whether or not bias existed was the trial judge) unless by “clear and convincing evidence” the appeals court justices can determine that no “reasonable” judge or jury would have made the determination in question.  To put it in layman’s terms, the decision made regarding the facts has to stink so much that even holding your nose doesn’t help.

So for these 6 justices of the Supreme Court to have taken this step (fairly rare for any appeals court much less the USSC) tells me they were mortally offended by what has been going on down in Texas.  This is about as harsh a rebuke of a trial judge as you will ever see, short of hearings for ethical violations.

Now, for anyone who doesn’t think judicial appointments matter at the appellate level, please remember this case.  The Fifth Circuit was more than willing to swallow this hogwash out of the State of Texas and allow this black man to be convicted by a jury of his white peers.  Only the righteous indignation of a few Supreme Court justices prevented this travesty.  I have no idea whether the defendant in question is guilty.  He may be, but that doesn’t excuse the State of Texas from using its judicial system to lynch him.  He’s entitled to a fair trial, not a kangeroo court in which he effectively bears the burden of proof.

As for the three justices who dissented from the majority opinion?  No surprises there:

In a dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that Texas prosecutors had offered enough evidence that exclusions were made for reasons other than race.

For instance, the state’s explanation that jurors were struck based on their hostility to the death penalty is plausible, and the alleged racial motivation behind prosecutors’ decision to shuffle the jury pool is only speculative, wrote Thomas, the court’s only black member.

“In view of the evidence actually presented to the Texas courts, their conclusion that the state did not discriminate was eminently reasonable,” Thomas wrote in an opinion joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia.

Scalia and Thomas are apparently on Bush’s short list to replace Rehnquist as Chief Justice.  This is what you can expect from any court in which they are able to garner a majority: a literal “whitewash” of the legal system.

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