Washington (March 29, 2022) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) and Congresswoman Katie Porter (CA-45) today introduced The Disabled Jurors Nondiscrimination Act, legislation that prohibits excluding a person from federal jury service on account of disability. Currently, federal law prohibits excluding an individual from jury service on account of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or economic status. The new legislation adds the word “disability” alongside those protected characteristics.
The bill also clarifies provisions of federal law governing juror qualifications, by amending the statute under which jurors are qualified to serve unless they are “unable to read, write, and understand the English language with a degree of proficiency sufficient to fill out satisfactorily the juror qualification form” or “unable to speak the English language.” The bill clarifies that no person may be disqualified from serving on a federal jury under those provisions on account of disability. Under the bill, it would be clear that a person who uses braille or sign language is not “unable to read, write, and understand the English language” or “unable to speak the English language.” Twenty-three states already have statutes that prohibit exclusion and/or disqualification from state jury service on account of a disability, including both Massachusetts and California.
“No one should be excluded from fulfilling their civic duty as an American because of a disability,” said Senator Markey. “My bill rights the wrongs of current law so that Americans with disabilities don’t face this kind of discrimination, and so we can truly create a jury of peers that reflects the diversity of our communities. I am proud to lead this bill with Congresswoman Porter, and will always continue to fight for the rights of people with disabilities.”
“Americans shouldn't be excluded from participating in our legal system just because they have a disability," said Rep. Porter. "And yet, current federal law allows attorneys to dismiss potential jurors solely on the basis of their disability statuses. This discrimination marginalizes and stigmatizes Americans with disabilities, who deserve representation in our justice system just as anyone else. I'm proud to partner with Senator Markey on this legislation to prevent people with disabilities from being unfairly barred from juries.”
Additional co-sponsors of this bill in the Senate include Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Additional, co-sponsors of this bill in the House include Representatives Dina Titus (NV-01), Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC).
The bill is endorsed by the American Foundation for the Blind, the American Council of the Blind, the National Association of the Deaf, American Association for Justice, Alliance for Justice, National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, and Paralyzed Veterans of America.
“With appropriate accommodations, blind people can and should be able to take full advantage not only of the privileges of citizenship but also the duties and responsibilities. Whether a person with disabilities is the lawyer, judge, defendant, or juror, they should be fully included in the court's conduct. We applaud the introduction of this bill to prohibit disability discrimination against potential blind jurors,” said Stephanie Enyart, Chief Public Policy and Research Officer, American Foundation for the Blind.
“The American Council of the Blind strives for full inclusion and participation of people who are blind and low vision in all aspects of our society, including the opportunity to perform our civic duty by serving on federal juries. ACB commends Sen. Markey and Rep. Porter for introducing this important legislation, and we urge its swift passage,” said Clark Rachfal, Director of Advocacy & Governmental Affairs, American Council of the Blind.
“Jury trials are a cornerstone of our democracy and the opportunity to serve is also a right protected in the Constitution, a right that should not be denied due to a disability,” said Linda Lipsen, CEO, American Association for Justice. “We are grateful for the leadership of Senator Markey and Representative Porter on this issue and look forward to Congress granting non-discrimination protection to people with disabilities for federal juries.”
“Jury trials and service are key to equal justice in our democracy. Alliance for Justice supports this effort to protect the rights of all persons, including persons with disabilities, to ensure fairness in our court systems,” said Kimberly Humphrey, Senior Legislative Counsel, Alliance for Justice.
“If juries do not fully reflect our community – in all its diversity – we deprive individuals of their right to be considered equally for jury service and we invite distrust in our criminal legal system. To achieve justice and promote confidence, we must ensure that all segments of the community can serve as jurors. This constitutional principle requires that no one be excluded from federal jury service because they have a disability. NACDL proudly supports The Disabled Jurors Nondiscrimination Act because it represents an important step toward this constitutional ideal,” said Martín A. Sabelli, President, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.