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Ballard v. United States


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329 U.S. 187 (1946), argued 5 Oct. 1946, decided 9 Dec. 1946 by vote of 5 to 4; Douglas for the Court, Jackson concurring in the result; Frankfurter, Vinson, Jackson, and Burton in dissent. Edna W. Ballard appealed her conviction for fraudulent use of the mails by challenging the practice of the federal courts in California of systematically excluding women from juries. The charges stemmed from her leadership of the “I Am” movement, whose teachings included the claims that she, her son, and her husband were spiritually in touch with Saint Germain and that the Ballards had performed hundreds of miracle cures.

Federal law then required that federal court juries had to have the same qualifications as those of the highest state court of law. California law did make women eligible for jury duty, but as a matter of systematic state practice, the California state courts did not summon women to serve. Federal courts in California followed the state practice.

The Supreme Court reversed Ballard's conviction, reasoning that the totality of federal statutes on the subject of juries reflected a design to make them fair cross sections of the community and truly representative of it. Since California law made women eligible jurors, they were part of the “community” from which federal juries must draw a cross section. All-male federal juries in such states were inconsistent with the congressional scheme. Although the case technically turned on how best to interpret the statutory mandate of Congress, the reasoning about the desirability of having a fair cross section of the community for jury service was later used in Taylor v. Louisiana (1975) to explain the meaning of the Sixth Amendment phrase “trial by jury.” The justices in J. E. B. v. Alabama Ex Rel. T. B. (1994) went even further and held that the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection of the laws barred the exclusion of potential jurors on the basis of their race.

Leslie Friedman Goldstein

Subjects: Law.


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