Color-Blind But Not Color-Deaf: Accent Discrimination in Jury Selection



Every week brings a new story about racialized linguistic discrimination. It happens in restaurants, on public transportation, and in the street. It also happens behind closed courtroom doors during jury selection. While it is universally recognized that dismissing prospective jurors because they look like racial minorities is prohibited, it is too often deemed acceptable to exclude jurors because they sound like racial minorities. The fact that accent discrimination is commonly racial, ethnic, and national origin discrimination is overlooked. This Article critically examines sociolinguistic scholarship to explain the relationship between accent, race, and racism. It argues that accent discrimination in jury selection violates constitutional and statutory law and focuses on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, equal protection under the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendments, and the fair cross-section requirement of the Sixth Amendment. It situates accent discrimination within the broader problems of juror language disenfranchisement and racial subordination in the U.S. courts. Finally, it advocates for inclusive practices, namely juror language accommodation.

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Culture provides a foundation for the way we experience the world.[1] Rooted in traits such as ethnicity, race, religion, and gender identity, culture influences people’s values, behaviors, and beliefs.[2] Scholars have described culture as something akin to “the air we

Panel I: Defund Means Defund Andrea Ritchie (she/her) is a Black lesbian immigrant whose writing, litigation, and advocacy has focused on policing of women and LGBT people of color for the past two decades. She is currently a researcher with