[eDebate] Batson challenges

Mitchell, Gordon Roger gordonm
Tue Aug 5 12:16:14 CDT 2008

It is an imperfect yet heuristically rich analogy - the elim strike card is intercollegiate debate's version of voir dire, the process by which prospective jurors are vetted prior to being seated for trials.

Generally in voir dire, counsel can strike an unlimited number of prospective jurors "for cause" - for example if a would-be juror has a financial conflict of interest in the case or expresses clear bias during screening.

But counsel also has recourse to a limited number of "peremptory strikes," where prospective jurors can be dismissed in voir dire without justification. In the landmark case of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), the U.S. Supreme Court held that peremptory challenges may not be used to exclude jurors based solely on their race:


Mining the analogy, one might say that Towson issued a "Batson challenge" during the 2008 CEDA quarterfinal round, objecting to Ft. Hays' use of its peremptory strike. Was the strike "neutral" or not? This became the focus of several cross-examinations, and indeed weighed heavily in several judge decisions.

If we look ahead to a world where elim strikes are regularly folded into contest rounds as potential voting issues, some perspective might be gained by surveying the reforms and arguments developed in the wake of Batson to institutionalize evaluation criteria for legitimate use of peremptory challenges in voir dire:


In the other direction, the fate of peremptory challenges, and indeed the workability of the entire Batson test apparatus, are live discussion topics in many circles beyond academic debate. Given the number of talented and influential jurists this community has produced, I would not be surprised if several current debaters and coaches go on to legal careers where they play a role in shaping the trajectory of voir dire jurisprudence (especially those folks interested in civil rights litigation). Given this, I would be curious to hear those discussing the CEDA quarters round share their views about the wisdom of the Batson precedent, whether peremptory challenges should be abolished, and how voir dire might be improved.



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Gordon R. Mitchell
Associate Professor of Communication
Director, William Pitt Debating Union
Deputy Director, Ridgway Center for Security Studies
University of Pittsburgh
CL 1117, 4200 Fifth Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
Phone: (412) 624-8531
Fax: (412) 624-1878

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