Trump Supreme Court Short-Lister Believes God Can Instruct Juries on Guilt
Judge William Pryor of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a jurist from Alabama, wrote a 55-page dissent on a Florida case, arguing that “religious freedom” ought to extend to jury deliberations, according to Slate.
Pryor’s draconian record as state attorney general has placed him high on President Donald Trump’s short list of potential Supreme Court nominees. As SCOTUSblog put it, Pryor has “consistently -- although not uniformly -- ruled in favor of parties raising religious liberty claims.
The case in question rests on the Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial, in which the trial jurors are obligated to heed jury instructions and render impartial justice.
Former Rep. Corrine Brown was involved in a fraud and tax evasion case, was found guilty of some of the charges against her, and sentenced in 2017 to five years in federal prison. She appealed her conviction on the conduct of one of her trial jurors.
When deliberations in Brown’s trial began, “Juror 13” told his fellow jurors that a “higher being” had told him that she was not guilty of all charges. Juror 13 said that he understood the judge’s instructions, including rendering judgment solely on the evidence presented in court, but the “Holy Spirit” had told him the defendant was not guilty.
The trial judge quickly dismissed the juror from the case.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan explained that the law permits a juror to pray to a higher being for guidance, but the juror cannot be expected to render an impartial verdict based on the evidence when “the higher being -- or the Holy Spirit is directing or telling the person what disposition of the charges should be made.”
Two judges of the 11th Circuit upheld Corrigan’s dismissal of Juror 13.
However, Pryor argued that Brown’s trial judge had discriminated against Juror 13 by removing him from service after “misconstruing the import of the juror’s religious statements.”
“Provided the juror is telling the truth,” Pryor wrote, “it is hard to imagine what kind of evidence could prove more convincingly that a deeply religious juror should not be dismissed.”
Judge Anne Conway, a Bush appointee, felt compelled to write a concurrence to explain what Pryor’s dissent did not mean:
“This is not a case which turns on a juror’s religious beliefs or religious freedom to engage in prayer or seek guidance during deliberations when applying the law to the evidence in the case,” she wrote. “Rather, it is a straightforward case about whether the district court -- having concluded based on direct questioning that a juror was not following the court’s instructions -- abused its discretion in dismissing that juror.”
If Pryor had it his way, it seems as if he would turn jury trials into religious contests.