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Strauder v. West Virginia

Strauder v. West Virginia was the first decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to use the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution to invalidate a state law. In doing so, the 1879 decision gave meaning to the post-Civil War amendment’s ban on race discrimination.

Taylor Strauder, a black man in Wheeling, was convicted of murder. He argued without success to the state courts that a West Virginia law that limited jury service to white male citizens over 21 denied him equal protection of the law. He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed the state ruling.

The 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court explained, ‘‘was designed to assure to the colored race the enjoyment of all the civil rights that under the law are enjoyed by white persons.’’ The West Virginia jury law violated that principle. ‘‘[T]hat colored people are singled out and expressly denied by a statute all right to participate . . . as jurors . . . is practically a brand upon them, affixed by the law, an assertion of their inferiority, and a stimulant to that race prejudice which is an impediment to securing to individuals of the race that equal justice which the law aims to secure to all others.’’ Accordingly, Strauder’s conviction was void.

Written by Robert M. Bastress