Vanderbilt Law Review

Article Title

The Jim Crow Jury

First Page



Since the end of Reconstruction, the criminal jury box has both reflected and reproduced racial hierarchies in the United States. In the Plessy era, racial exclusion from juries was central to the reassertion of white supremacy. But it also generated pushback: a movement resisting "the Jim Crow jury" actively fought, both inside and outside the courtroom, efforts to deny black citizens equal representation on criminal juries. Recovering this forgotten history-a counterpart to the legal struggles against disenfranchisement and de jure segregationunderscores the centrality of the jury to politics and power in the post- Reconstruction era. It also helps explain Louisiana's adoption of nonunanimous criminal juries, which remain in use today. The Jim Crow jury never fell. Over a century later, statesanctioned racial discrimination in jury selection remains ubiquitous, and the racial composition of juries continues to shape substantive trial outcomes. This Article examines over 13,000 peremptory strikes in recent criminal trials in Louisiana and demonstrates that race continues to drive the selection of jurors. Additionally, by examining the racial breakdown of 199 recent nonunanimous verdicts, this Article provides an unprecedented measure of how race enters into jury deliberations: viewing the same evidence in courtroom settings, black and white jurors regularly came to starkly different conclusions about guilt and innocence.