Racial Justice, Participatory Democracy - For the better part of this century, Native Americans have been excluded from jury service in San Juan County, Utah. Few Native Americans appeared on jury lists, and it was not until the mid-1970’s that an Indian juror actually served on a trial jury, even though Native Americans constitute over 50% of that county’s population. This shameful situation was addressed in a 1993 lawsuit brought by Eric Swenson. The ACLU of Utah later joined Swenson in this lawsuit.
In 1996, a consent decree was entered in which the Utah Judicial Council – the body that compiles jury lists for Utah district courts –agreed to take measures to include Native Americans on jury lists and to institute other much needed jury reforms.
Unfortunately, enforcement proceedings had to be brought when it was revealed that the Utah Judicial Council had not complied with the consent decree. The Council had not used jury lists in the Seventh District in San Juan County in 1997 and 1998 that contained sufficient numbers of Native Americans. The Council had failed to file a jury plan outlining the reforms mandated by the consent decree. The Council had also failed to file annual reports with the Court stating what had been done to comply with the consent decree.
Evidence we presented at a trial in December 1998 demonstrated these many problems with the Council’s jury system, including unacceptably low number of Native American jurors on the jury lists. State Judge David Roth ordered the Judicial Council to file a jury plan. The Court also ordered the Council to file annual reports, and Judge Roth required that the Council take reasonable measures to ensure that it is in compliance with the consent decree hereafter. In order to best implement the jury reforms agreed to by the parties, the Court issued interpretations of the consent decree and revised the agreement of the parties.
The ACLU of Utah and Swenson will continue to monitor the Judicial Council’s compliance with the consent decree in order to make sure that in the future, Native Americans are given an equal opportunity to participate in San Juan’s jury selection system.