511 U.S. 127 (1994), argued 2 Nov. 1993, decided 19 Apr. 1994 by vote of 6 to 3, Blackmun for the Court, Kennedy and O’Connor concurring, and Rehnquist and Scalia in dissent. The high-profile criminal cases of William Kennedy Smith and Rodney King sharpened American interest in having a trial by a jury of one's peers, especially when issues arose over the gender and racial composition of juries. The Supreme Court in the landmark case of Batson v. Kentucky (1986) held that prosecutors were prohibited under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from using peremptory challenges to excuse potential jurors solely on the basis of race. In Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co. (1991) the Court extended the Batson rule to civil trials. Until J.E.B., however, the Court had never invoked the Equal Protection argument used in Batson to discern the legitimacy of gender-based peremptory challenges.
In 1991 Teresia Bible, the mother of Phillip Rhett Bowman Bible, brought a paternity action against James E. Bowman, Sr., in Scottsboro, Alabama. (The town, of course, had been the site in the early 1930s of the infamous Scottsboro case in which seven African-American youths were convicted of the rape of two white women on a freight train and sentenced to death by an all-white jury.) In the paternity suit, the prosecutor for the state of Alabama used nine of his ten peremptory challenges to remove men from the panel, with the result that the jury was composed of twelve women. The prosecutor did so in the belief that women would be tougher on matters of paternity than would men, a view that the defense apparently subscribed to as well, since it used a similar number of peremptory challenges to remove female would-be jurors. When, however, the all-female jury convicted Bowman, his counsel immediately appealed, claiming that the Supreme Court's decision in Batson precluded the use of gender-based peremptory challenges. The Alabama court of appeals rejected this argument and sustained the trial court's verdict, including an order directing Bowman to pay child support.
The Court, however, speaking through Justice Harry A. Blackmun, overturned the verdict, doing so in blunt language that echoed for the issue of gender the kind of thinking the Court had invoked for the issue of race in Batson. “Virtually no support exists,” Blackmun wrote, “for the conclusion that gender alone is an accurate predictor of [jurors’] attitudes” (p. 138). There was, Blackmun continued, no legitimate rationale for striking potential jurors based on “invidious, archaic and over broad stereotypes about the relative abilities of men and women” (p. 131). Blackmun concluded that “[w]e recognize that whether the trial is criminal or civil, potential jurors, as well as litigants have an equal protection right to jury selection procedures that are free from state-sponsored group stereotypes rooted in, and reflective of, historical prejudice” (p. 128). The Court did not reject the use of all peremptory challenges but said that in exercising this right gender could not be used as a proxy for bias. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor agreed but argued in her concurrence that the rule should apply only to the state, not to the defense. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy also concurred in the opinion, but he noted his belief that the Equal Protection Clause protected only individual and not group rights. A juror, in Kennedy's view, did not sit on a jury as the representative of a racial or sexual group but only as an individual citizen.