Clarence Thomas Cast Single Dissenting Vote Against Black Inmate Seeking New Trial in Racial Discrimination Case

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Timothy Tyrone Foster, who was sentenced to death for the 1987 murder of an elderly white woman.
Timothy Tyrone Foster, who was sentenced to death for the 1987 murder of an elderly white woman.

Thirty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the elimination of potential jurors solely on the basis of race unconstitutional. Yet, the justice system still grapples with the issue of racial discrimination in the jury selection process. However, a recent ruling by the highest court in the land may indicate that change is on the horizon.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of a Black death row inmate named Timothy Tyrone Foster in a case involving racial bias in jury selection, CNN.com reports. Foster was convicted for the 1987 murder of Queen Madge White, an elderly white woman. The jury that convicted him was all white.

Monday’s 7-1 verdict was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, according to The Week. Justice Clarence Thomas, the court’s lone African-American justice, was the only one to dissent.

“Foster’s new evidence does not justify this court’s reassessment of who was telling the truth nearly three decades removed from voir dire,” Thomas said.

Ever since the ruling was handed down, critics have taken to Twitter to rip into the Supreme Court justice for casting the only vote against the Black death row inmate.

According to CNN.com, Foster’s lawyers have reportedly obtained notes written by the prosecution during their jury selection process. Throughout the notes, the names of potential African-American jurors were highlighted and marked with a “b” for Black.

Foster’s attorneys assert that the notes clearly display the prosecution’s effort to intentionally eliminate each and every prospective Black juror. The state of Georgia (where Foster is serving his time) disagrees, arguing that the notes simply show the prosecutors’ preparation for a “racial bias challenge,” according to CNN.com.

“The State’s new argument today does not dissuade us from the conclusion that its prosecutors were motivated in substantial part by race,” Chief Roberts wrote. “Two peremptory strikes on the basis of race are two more than the Constitution allows.”
Atlanta Black Star reported that Foster’s lawyers, who are from the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, pushed to get the case thrown out, as prosecutor Stephen Lanier deliberately barred African-Americans from the jury. Per the Washington Post, Lanier told jurors they had to convict Foster in order to “deter other people out there in the projects.” Prosecutors also gave questionable reasons for eliminating the Black jurors.
For example, the Washington Post reports that a woman named  Marilyn Garrett was struck from the jury after Lanier claimed she was too close in age to Foster. Garrett was 39 at the time while Foster was just 19.
“In this case we have an arsenal of smoking guns,” Stephen Bright, one of Foster’s attorneys, told NPR. “If the courts are going to ignore this kind of discrimination, or if they’re going to say if there’s one plausible reason out of a whole laundry list of reasons that are given, it’s going to mean that there’s no protection against racial discrimination in jury selection. And this is rampant — rampant in this country.”
Although Monday’s decision offers a glimmer of hope for the reduction in instances of racial bias in jury selections, it does not mean that Foster’s conviction has been overturned, according to CNN.com. The results of the decision remain unclear as the Associated Press reports that both Foster’s conviction and death sentence have been upended.
The case will return to Georgia state court, where the now 47-year-old will have the opportunity to argue for a new trial.
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