Federal Court Says Drug Company Was Wrong To Kick Gay Juror Off AIDS Case

jury dutyIn a ruling that has potentially broad implications for LGBT issues, a federal appeals court has ruled that lawyers can’t kick a potential juror off a panel just because the juror is gay.

The ruling came in a case involving a dispute between two drug companies, Abbott Laboratories and Glaxo SmithKline. The issue in court was the price of an HIV drug, and when Abbott dismissed a gay man as a potential juror, GSK objected on the grounds that it was a discriminatory move.  Abbott’s pricing of the drug, Norvir, had prompted complaints in the gay community.

The ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was blunt. Removing a juror “on the basis of sexual orientation continue[s] this deplorable tradition of treating gays and lesbians as undeserving of participation in our nation’s most cherished rites and rituals,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt said in the majority opinion. “They 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.”

But just as interesting from a legal perspective was the reasoning Reinhardt used to reach that conclusion. Based on the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down DOMA, Reinhardt said that the Court had established a more rigorous standard for protecting LGBT rights. Reinhardt said that the Supreme Court effectively said that gay legal cases require “heightened scrutiny,” which is just one step below the highest standard a court could apply.

That may have ramifications in other cases, including marriage equality challenges. “Today’s ruling will make it exceedingly difficult for states to justify laws that discriminate based on sexual orientation,” David Codell, litigation director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the San Jose Mercury News.