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Norris v. Alabama


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294 U.S. 587 (1935), argued 15 and 18 Feb. 1935, decided 1 Apr. 1935 by vote of 8 to 0; Hughes for the Court, McReynolds not participating. This was the second decision of the Supreme Court in the Scottsboro rape cases. In Powell v. Alabama (1932), the Court reversed the convictions of African-American youths sentenced to death by the Alabama courts on the ground that the defendants, who lacked effective assistance of counsel, had not received a fair trial as mandated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Scottsboro cases were then retried by the Alabama authorities, and one of the defendants, Clarence Norris, was again sentenced to death, although defense counsel alleged that African-Americans had been systematically excluded from the grand jury that indicted Norris and from the trial jury that convicted him.

On appeal from a decision of the Alabama Supreme Court affirming Norris's conviction, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed. Speaking for the Court, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes held that the systematic exclusion of African-Americans from service on the grand and trial juries denied African-American defendants in the state courts the equal protection of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Since the defense had adduced convincing evidence that African-Americans had been systematically excluded from service on the grand jury that indicted Norris and from the trial jury that convicted him, the Court reversed the conviction.

Richard C. Cortner

Subjects: Law.


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