Strauder v. West Virginia

Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 (1880), was a United States Supreme Court case about racial discrimination and United States constitutional criminal procedure.[1] Strauder was the first instance where the Supreme Court reversed a state court decision denying a defendant's motion to remove his criminal trial to federal court pursuant to Section 3 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866.[2]

Strauder v. West Virginia
Argued October 20–21, 1879
Decided March 1, 1880
Full case nameStrauder v. West Virginia
Citations100 U.S. 303 (more)
25 L. Ed. 664; 1879 U.S. LEXIS 1830
1. A state law that excludes citizens from jury service on account of race or color is a denial of the equal protection of the law; and
2. It is within Congress's power under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to provide for the removal to federal court those cases arising under state law where that state's law denies a party the equal protection of their rights.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Morrison Waite
Associate Justices
Nathan Clifford · Noah H. Swayne
Samuel F. Miller · Stephen J. Field
William Strong · Joseph P. Bradley
Ward Hunt · John M. Harlan
Case opinions
MajorityStrong, joined by Waite, Swayne, Miller, Bradley, Hunt, Harlan
DissentField, joined by Clifford
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV


Under Section 3 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Congress provided to defendants in state trials the right to remove to federal court "all causes, civil or criminal," arising under state or municipal laws wherein "any of the rights secured to [the defendant] by the first section of this act" were denied or could not be enforced.

On the morning of April 18, 1872 Taylor Strauder, a former slave, murdered his wife Anna by bludgeoning her to death with two strikes from a hatchet handle to her head after arguing with her through the night about alleged marital infidelity on Anna's part. Strauder was arrested and arraigned at the May 1872 term of the Ohio County, West Virginia Circuit Court. Strauder demurred the indictment, alleging it was defective; the court overruled the motion. Strauder then pleaded not guilty and asked the court for a continuance to the October term, which was granted. Strauder received a second continuance at the October 1872 term.

First trial

During the course of the first continuance, the State of West Virginia adopted a new state constitution in August 1872. The new state legislature reconstructed the state courts and passed a criminal procedure bill on April 3, 1873 providing criminal defendants with preliminary examinations. At the May 1873 term of the circuit court, Strauder made a motion requesting this examination; the motion was denied. The case then proceeded to trial over May 6–8, 1873. The jury returned a verdict of guilty that same day, and the court sentenced Strauder to death by hanging on July 8, 1873.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of West Virginia held on July 20, 1874 that, since Strauder's case had not yet commenced trial at the time of the passage of the April 3, 1873 statute providing for a preliminary examination before trial, it was within the scope of the statute. Since Strauder had timely made the request for the examination, the ruling of the circuit court denying the examination by the county court on grounds that the statute wasn't applicable to the case was reversed. Consequently, the supreme court set aside Strauder's conviction and remanded the case to the county court for the preliminary examination.

Second trial

An additional act regarding trial procedure had passed as part of the 1873 reconstruction of the West Virginia courts in consequence of the new state constitution; the act of March 12, 1873 provided "[a]ll white male persons, who are twenty-one years of age and not over sixty, and who are citizens of this State, shall be liable to serve as jurors, except as herein provided." The only exception provided regarded service as a state official.

Upon his case returning to the circuit court of Ohio County in November 1874, Strauder entered a motion to remove the case to federal court on grounds that African-Americans citizens were precluded by West Virginia law from grand and petit jury service; the motion was denied by the state judge. Strauder then in turn entered motions challenging the racial composition of the jury pool and the consequent racial composition of the empaneled jury. These motions were denied, the trial commenced, and the all-white jury again convicted Strauder. The trial court in January 1875 again sentenced Strauder to death by hanging.

Again before the Supreme Court of West Virginia on appeal, the supreme court relied on the opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States in The Slaughterhouse Cases and Bradwell v. Illinois to find the Fourteenth Amendment had not been "intended to protect the citizens of any State against unjust legislation by their own State." The supreme court consequently affirmed the trial court holding that removing the case to federal court was unwarranted.


The majority opinion, written by Justice William Strong, focused on two legal questions:

  1. Does the Constitution of the United States afford citizens of the United States a right to trial by a jury selected and empaneled without discrimination against prospective jurors on account of a juror's race or color?
  2. If such a right exists and is denied by the state, may the case be removed to federal court pursuant to Congress's power of enforcement under the Fourteenth Amendment?

The majority held that categorical exclusion of blacks from juries for no other reason than their race violated the Equal Protection Clause since the very purpose of the Clause was "to assure to the colored race the enjoyment of all the civil rights that under the law are enjoyed by white persons, and to give to that race the protection of the general government, in that enjoyment, whenever it should be denied by the States." The Court did not say that exclusion of blacks from juries violated the rights of potential jury members, but such exclusion violated the rights of black criminal defendants since juries would be "drawn from a panel from which the State has expressly excluded every man of [a defendant's] race."

However, the Court did not strike down West Virginia's law respecting juror qualifications as unconstitutional, as Strauder had not challenged the law as such. Instead, it proceeded with an analysis of whether the denial of equal protection of the law confronting Strauder was of a nature sufficient to motivate an exercise of Congressional authority under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to enact the law allowing for the removal of cases such as Strauder to the local federal district court, presumably where the trial process, under the supervision of a federal judge, would enforce the defendant's rights against the state.


The two dissenting justices, Field and Clifford, explained their position in the case of Ex Parte Virginia, decided the same day.[3] In the latter case, Field wrote, with Clifford concurring, "The equality of the protection secured extends only to civil rights, as distinguished from those which are political or arise from the form of the government and its mode of administration."[3]


While a victory for the rights of black defendants and an important early civil rights case, Strauder v. West Virginia upheld the right of states to bar women or other classes from juries by holding, in the words of Justice Strong, that a state "may confine the selection to males, to freeholders, to citizens, to persons within certain ages, or to persons having educational qualifications. We do not believe the Fourteenth Amendment was ever intended to prohibit this.... Its aim was against discrimination because of race or color."[4] The precedent set by Strauder has continued to influence rulings in cases as late as 1961 in Hoyt v. Florida 368 U.S. 57 (1961).

Because it was not raised in the context of Strauder, the Court also did not consider in its analysis whether state actions that have a disparate impact upon African-Americans would violate the Equal Protection Clause; that question was not considered until almost a century later in Washington v. Davis, which reaffirmed that Strauder "established that the exclusion of [African-Americans] from grand and petit juries in criminal proceedings violated the Equal Protection Clause, but the fact that a particular jury or a series of juries does not statistically reflect the racial composition of the community does not, in itself, make out an invidious discrimination forbidden by the Clause." 246 U.S. 229 (1976).

See also


  1. Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 (1880).
  2. Klarman, Michael J. (2000). "The Racial Origins of Modern Criminal Procedure". Michigan Law Review. 99 (1): 48–97. JSTOR 1290325.
  3. Ex Parte Virginia, 100 U.S. 339 (1879).
  4. Kerber, Linda (1999). No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship. Macmillan. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-8090-7384-9 via Google Books.

Further reading

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