Today marks the 44rd anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case of Taylor v. Louisiana. Taylor stands for the simple proposition that laws which excluded women from the jury pool violate a defendant’s 6th amendment right to a jury trial of one’s peers. Taylor also overturned the holding in Hoyt v. Florida which had upheld this practice.
The case behind Taylor is interesting considering the facts. On September 28th, 1971 Billy Jean Taylor, a 25-year-old man, was arrested and charged with aggravated kidnapping, armed robbery, and aggravated rape in St. Tammany Parish Louisiana. Mr. Taylor had recently robbed Mrs. Louise Willie, her daughter, and, her grandson at knife point, before forcing them to drive to an abandoned road where he raped Mrs. Willie. At the time, aggravated rape carried death penalty in Louisiana.
On April 12th, 1972, the day before jury selection was to begin, Mr. Taylor filed a motion to quash the venire of jurors because there were no women in the panel. At the time, the Louisiana State Constitution contained a provision which stated that no woman would be called for jury service unless she applied for the jury pool herself at the parish courthouse. Due to this legal hurdle, the total jury pool was 1,800 people, of which only 12 were women. The venire selected for Mr. Taylor’s case was 175 people with no women in the pool. Mr. Taylor argued that his 6th amendment right to a jury of his peers was violated. The trial judge overruled the motion, and Mr. Taylor was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.
Mr. Taylor appealed his sentence on numerous grounds, one of which was the 6th amendment right violation. Mr. Taylor appealed his case to the Louisiana Supreme Court who affirmed his conviction, and annulled his death sentence pursuant to the Supreme Courts momentous holding in Furman v. Georgia. The Louisiana Supreme Court in a 6 – 1 decision held that the Louisiana State Constitution’s exclusion of women from jury service did not violate the 6th amendment of the Constitution following the holding in Hoyt. Mr. Taylor then sought a writ of certiorari on the 6th amendment question from the Supreme Court in early 1974, and was granted cert in mid-1974.
The Supreme Court heard arguments on October 16th, 1974. Mr. Taylor simply argued that his 6th amendment right to a trial by his peer incorporated through the 14th amendment against the states had been violated by the Louisiana State constitution’s exclusion of women from jury service.
The State argued that Mr. Taylor’s rights had not been violated and that Hoyt had upheld the constitutionality of the practice. The State further argued that if the Supreme Court required women to serve on juries, the State would not be able to bear the administrative burden of having to give so many individualized excuses from jury service to women who belonged at home.
The Supreme Court rendered its judgment on January 21st, 1975. In an 8- 1 decision the majority, led by Justice Bryon R. White held that Mr. Taylor’s 6th amendment right to a jury of his peers had been violated by the Louisiana state constitution. The Court reasoned that because the Louisiana state constitution systematically excluded 53% of the parish population, the state constitution’s provision had effectively denied Mr. Taylors right to a jury of his peers. The Court went on to hold that any such statutory on constitutional scheme which excluded females like Louisiana was unconstitutional. The Court then went on to tie the holding to the landmark case of Duncan v. Louisiana. The Court then expressly overturned the holding in Hoyt. The Court finally reversed Mr. Taylors conviction and ordered a new trial consistent with the holding of the case. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger concurred with the majority.
Justice William Rehnquist, the lone dissenter argued that the 6th amendment only prohibited unfair jury selections that resulted in unfair trials. Justice Rehnquist reasoned that since there was no evidence that Mr. Taylor’s trial had no been unfair, the Court should not have reversed his conviction.
The Court, a week after the decision issued a per curium opinion in the case of Daniel v. Louisiana which only applied the holding of Taylor to cases going forward from that date, not retroactively. Only Justice William O. Douglas protested the opinion.
With his conviction overturned, Mr. Taylor was granted a new trial, and once again convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Today, Taylor remains a landmark case for the American criminal justice system, and shows that the Supreme Court is willing and able to overturn bad rulings. With Experienced Legal Representation, you can guarantee your constitutional rights are protected.
Written by Hunter J. White
 Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522, 95 S. Ct. 692 (1975)
 Hoyt v. Florida, 368 U.S. 57, 82 S. Ct. 159 (1961)
 Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S. Ct. 2726 (1972)
 Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 88 S. Ct. 1444 (1968)