In the case at issue, the defense peremptorily challenged nine potential jurors and the prosecutor, Joe Gutmann, peremptorily challenged six, including all four black persons, and a jury composed only of white persons was selected. The defense counsel moved to discharge the jury on the ground that the prosecutor's removal of the black veniremen violated petitioner's rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to a jury drawn from a cross section of the community, and under the Fourteenth Amendment to equal protection of the laws. Without expressly ruling on petitioner's request for a hearing, the trial judge denied the motion, and the jury ultimately convicted the defendant.
The defendant appealed the conviction to the Kentucky Supreme Court, who affirmed the conviction. That court cited Swain v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 202 (1965) and held that a defendant alleging lack of a fair cross section must demonstrate systematic exclusion of a group of jurors from the panel of prospective jurors. Batson continued his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Certiorari was granted to decide whether petitioner was tried "in violation of constitutional provisions guaranteeing the defendant an impartial jury and a jury composed of persons representing a fair cross section of the community."
In Swain, the court recognized that a "State's purposeful or deliberate denial to Negroes on account of race of participation as jurors in the administration of justice violates the Equal Protection Clause". But they ruled that the defendant had the burden of proving a systematic striking of black jurors throughout the county, that is, that the peremptory challenge system as a whole was being perverted. In Batson the court ruled that the defendant could make a prima facie case for purposeful racial discrimination in jury selection by relying on the record only in his own case. They explain further:
The defendant first must show that he is a member of a cognizable racial group, and that the prosecutor has exercised peremptory challenges to remove from the venire [jury pool] members of the defendant's race. The defendant may also rely on the fact that peremptory challenges constitute a jury selection practice that permits those to discriminate who are of a mind to discriminate. Finally, the defendant must show that such facts and any other relevant circumstances raise an inference that the prosecutor used peremptory challenges to exclude the veniremen from the petit jury on account of their race. Once the defendant makes a prima facie showing, the burden shifts to the State to come forward with a neutral explanation for challenging black jurors.
The decision also held the following:
The decision of the court was not retroactive This meant that people convicted prior to the Batson decision by juries whose racial composition was influenced by peremptory challenges not consistent with this opinion could not appeal on the grounds outlined in the opinion.
The effect of the Court's decision, however, will be to force the defendant to come forward and 'articulate a neutral explanation' for his peremptory challenge, a burden he probably cannot meet. This example demonstrates that today's holding will produce juries that the parties do not believe are truly impartial. This will surely do more than 'disconcert' litigants; it will diminish confidence in the jury system.
The idea of Batson challenges also extends to sex-based peremptory challenges. See J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel. T.B., .
Although the issue has yet to come before a federal court, in state courts, Batson has been applied to discriminatory use of peremptory strikes against judges. For example, in Superior Court v. Williams, 8 Cal. App. 4th 688, defense counsel objected to the prosecution’s motion to disqualify an African-American judge, suspecting that the motion was racially motivated. The Court noted that Batson’s use of Equal Protection to combat racially discriminatory strikes against jurors was well established, and that subsequent decisions had extended these protections in other contexts. The Court held that “these principles are equally applicable to race-based challenges to judges.”
Joe Gutmann, the prosecutor in Batson's 1982 trial, has said that the Supreme Court's decision was "a good one" because it prevents lawyers from discriminating in jury selection. Gutmann now teaches government and history at inner-city Louisville Central High School. He has said he removed the black members of the venire not because of their race but because they were young and might sympathize with Batson.
Batson is now a construction worker in Louisville, Kentucky and says of the media attention regarding the famous case that bears his name, "It's so old, they ought to let it go."