328 U.S. 217 (1946), 349, Thiel v. Southern Pacific Co.

Docket Nº:No. 349
Citation:328 U.S. 217, 66 S.Ct. 984, 90 L.Ed. 1181
Party Name:Thiel v. Southern Pacific Co.
Case Date:May 20, 1946
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 217

328 U.S. 217 (1946)

66 S.Ct. 984, 90 L.Ed. 1181



Southern Pacific Co.

No. 349

United States Supreme Court

May 20, 1946

Argued March 25, 1946




1. A federal court jury panel from which persons who work for a daily wage were intentionally and systematically excluded held unlawfully constituted. Pp. 221, 225.

2. Such discrimination against daily wage earners as a class was not justified by either federal or California law. P. 222.

3. The choice of the means by which unlawful distinctions and discriminations in the selection of jury panels are to be avoided rests largely in the sound discretion of the trial courts and their officers. P. 220.

4. The pay period of an individual is irrelevant to his eligibility and capacity to serve as a juror. P. 223.

5. Although a federal judge may be justified in excusing a daily wage earner for whom jury service would entail an undue financial hardship, that fact cannot support the complete exclusion of all daily wage earners regardless of whether there is actual hardship involved. P. 224.

Page 218

6. Jury service is a duty as well as a privilege of citizenship. A claim of financial embarrassment will excuse only when a real burden or hardship would be imposed. P. 224.

7. A judgment of the District Court in a case in which that court denied a motion to strike a jury panel from which persons who work for a daily wage were intentionally and systematically excluded is here reversed by this Court in the exercise of its power of supervision over the administration of justice in the federal courts. P. 225.

8. It is unnecessary in this case to determine whether the unsuccessful litigant was in any way prejudiced by the wrongful exclusion or whether he was one of the excluded class. P. 225.

9. Nor is it material that the jury which actually decided the factual issue in this case was found to include at least five persons who were of the laboring class, though not per diem workers. P. 225.

149 F.2d 783 reversed.

Petitioner brought suit in a state court against the railroad company to recover damages for alleged negligence in its treatment of him while a passenger on one of its trains. On application of the railroad company, the suit was removed to the federal district court on the ground of diversity of citizenship. The judgment of the District Court, upon a trial by jury, was in favor of the railroad company. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. 149 F.2d 783. This Court granted certiorari limited to the question whether petitioner's motion to strike the jury panel was properly denied by the District Court. 326 U.S. 716. Reversed, p. 225.

MURPHY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MURPHY delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, a passenger, jumped out of the window of a moving train operated by the respondent, the Southern

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Pacific Company. He filed a complaint in a California state court to recover damages, alleging that the respondent's agents knew that he was "out of his normal mind" and should not be accepted as a passenger or else should be guarded, and that, having accepted him as a passenger, they left him unguarded and failed to stop the train before he finally fell to the ground. At respondent's request, the case was removed to the federal district court at San Francisco on the ground of diversity of citizenship, respondent being a Kentucky corporation. Several vain attempts were then made by the petitioner to obtain a remand of the case to the state court; petitioner was also restrained from attempting to proceed further in the state court.1

After demanding a jury trial, petitioner moved to strike out the entire jury panel, alleging, inter alia, that

mostly business executives or those having the employer's viewpoint are purposely selected on said panel, thus giving a majority representation to one class or occupation and discriminating against other occupations and classes, particularly the employees and those in the poorer classes who constitute, by far, the great majority of citizens eligible for jury service.

Following a hearing at which testimony was taken, the motion was denied. Petitioner then attempted to withdraw his demand for a jury trial, but the respondent refused to consent. A jury of twelve was chosen. Petitioner thereupon challenged these jurors upon the same grounds previously urged in relation to the entire jury panel, and upon the further ground that six of the twelve jurors were closely affiliated and connected with the respondent. The court denied this challenge. The trial proceeded, and the jury returned a verdict for the respondent.

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Petitioner renewed his objections in his motion to set aside the verdict or, in the alternative, to grant a new trial. In denying this motion, the court orally found that five of the twelve jurors "belong more closely and intimately with the working man and employee class than they do with any other class," and that they might be expected to be "sympathetic with the experiences in life, the affairs of life, and with the economic views, of people who belong to the working or employee class." The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment in its entirety, 149 F.2d 783, and we brought the case here on certiorari "limited to the question whether petitioner's motion to strike the jury panel was properly denied."

The American tradition of trial by jury, considered in connection with either criminal or civil proceedings, necessarily contemplates an impartial jury drawn from a cross-section of the community. Smith v. Texas, 311 U.S. 128, 130; Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 85. This does not mean, of course, that every jury must contain representatives of all the economic, social, religious, racial, political, and geographical groups of the community; frequently such complete representation would be impossible. But it does mean that prospective jurors shall be selected by court officials without systematic and intentional exclusion of any of these groups. Recognition [66 S.Ct. 986] must be given to the fact that those eligible for jury service are to be found in every stratum of society. Jury competence is an individual, rather than a group or class, matter. That fact lies at the very heart of the jury system. To disregard it is to open the door to class distinctions and discriminations which are abhorrent to the democratic ideals of trial by jury.

The choice of the means by which unlawful distinctions and discriminations are to be avoided rests largely in the sound discretion of the trial courts and their officers. This

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discretion, of course, must be guided by pertinent statutory provisions. So far as federal jurors are concerned, they must be chosen "without reference to party affiliations," 28 U.S.C. § 412, and citizens cannot be disqualified "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude," 28 U.S.C. § 415. In addition, jurors must be returned from such parts of the district as the court may direct,

so as to be most favorable to an impartial trial, and so as not to incur an unnecessary expense, or unduly burden the citizens of any part of the district with such service,

28 U.S.C. § 413. For the most part, of course, the qualifications and exemptions in regard to federal jurors are to be determined by the laws of the state where the federal court is located, 28 U.S.C. § 411.2 Pointer v. United States, 151 U.S. 396. A state law creating an unlawful qualification, however, is not binding, and should not be utilized in selecting federal jurors. See Kie v. United States, 27 F. 351, 357.

The undisputed evidence in this case demonstrates a failure to abide by the proper rules and principles of jury selection. Both the clerk of the court and the jury commissioner testified that they deliberately and intentionally excluded from the jury lists all persons who work for a daily wage. They generally used the city directory as the

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source of names of prospective jurors. In the words of the clerk,

If I see in the directory the name of John Jones and it says he is a longshoreman, I do not put his name in, because I have found by experience that that man will not serve as a juror, and I will not get people who will qualify. The minute that a juror is called into court on a venire and says he is working for $10 a day and cannot afford to work for four, the Judge has never made one of those men serve, and so, in order to avoid putting names of people in who I know won't become jurors in the court, won't qualify as jurors in this court, I do leave them out. . . . Where I thought the designation indicated that they were day laborers, I mean they were people who were compensated solely when they were working by the day, I leave them out.

The jury commissioner corroborated this testimony, adding that he purposely excluded "all the iron craft, bricklayers, carpenters, and machinists" because, in the past, "those men came into court and offered that [financial hardship] as an excuse, and the judge usually let them go." The evidence indicated, however, that laborers who were paid weekly or monthly wages were placed on the jury lists, as well as the wives of daily wage earners.

It was further admitted that business men and their wives constituted at least 50% of the jury lists, although both the clerk and the commissioner denied that they consciously [66 S.Ct. 987] chose according to wealth or occupation. Thus, the admitted discrimination was limited to those who worked for a daily wage, many of whom might suffer financial loss by serving on juries at the rate of $4 a day, and would be excused for that reason.

This exclusion of all those who earn a daily wage cannot be justified by federal or state law. Certainly nothing in the federal statutes warrants such an exclusion. And the California statutes are...

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