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9th Circuit Rules Gays and Lesbians to Not Be Prevented from Jury Service

In a decision with widespread significance, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled this week that it was unconstitutional to exclude jurors based on sexual orientation as it is also unconstitutional to exclude women and minorities from juries.

Writing on behalf of the 9th Circuit, Judge Stephen Reinhardt observed that excluding prospective jurors based on their sexual orientation is a “deplorable tradition of treating gays and lesbians as undeserving of participation in our nation’s most cherished rites and rituals.”

The unanimous three-judge panel observed that such biases “deprive individuals of the opportunity to participate in perfecting democracy and guarding our ideals of justice on account of a characteristic that has nothing to do with their fitness to serve.”

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The issue came to fore in the high-profile legal battle between Abbot Laboratories and SmithKline Beecham in a 2011 federal antitrust trial in Oakland. SmithKline’s legal team alleged that Abbott had removed a gay juror because the trial involved a claim of Abbott inflating the price of a crucial HIV treatment drug.

As a result of the new ruling, the 9th Circuit ordered a new trial of the antitrust battle between the pharmaceutical majors over the agreements and pricing for an Abbott drug called Norvir. While an Abott spokeswoman said the company is reviewing its options, SmithKline said in a statement that the company was pleased with the “well reasoned” ruling.

Abbott’s aggressive pricing of the drug essential for HIV patients had drawn furious protests from the gay community. The company had denied that it had ill motives in removing the gay juror, but the case created an opportunity to test the scope of the Supreme Court’s ruling invalidating the DOMA, as well as putting to test the decision in Batson v. Kentucky where the Supreme Court had held jurors could not be barred based on race.

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