Johnson v. California - Oral Argument - April 18, 2005

Johnson v. California

Media for Johnson v. California

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 13, 2005 in Johnson v. California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 18, 2005 in Johnson v. California

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in No. 04-6964, Jay Shawn Johnson v. California.

Mr. Bedrick.

Stephen B. Bedrick:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

I would like to address three points.

One, the correct prima facie standard under Batson is whether there's sufficient evidence to permit a judge to draw a reasonable inference of discrimination.

Two, the challenger's own reasons must be disclosed in order for the Batson process to work and to prevent discrimination.

Three, it is improper for a third party to speculate at the prima facie stage as to a challenger's possible reason because what needs to be evaluated is the challenger's own reason and own credibility and own demeanor, and not someone else's guess as a reason.

The correct prima facie test is a permissive inference test where there is sufficient evidence to allow a judge to draw a reasonable inference of discrimination.

That's equivalent to the test where a judge decides whether there's sufficient evidence to pass a case to the jury, although I'd like to add one small proviso to that, which is in case of doubt, the benefit should go in the direction of obtaining the reason because the goals of Batson cannot properly be enforced unless the reason for the challenge... the challenge is stated.

Antonin Scalia:

Well, that's not very--

William H. Rehnquist:

That's a very low standard in the first place, and why should it be watered down more?

Stephen B. Bedrick:

I'm... I'm not suggesting it be watered down, Your Honor.

I'm just suggesting in case of a tie, in case the judge finds the question is in equipoise, then there should... the benefit should go to the... obtaining the reason and therefore obtaining a... a ruling on the merits.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Is the test for going to the jury the same as the test for whether or not discovery can proceed?

Stephen B. Bedrick:

No, Your Honor.

The test for going to the jury is actually higher.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well, I'm... I'm surprised you set the bar that high.

If we're going to--

Stephen B. Bedrick:

I guess I had the benefit of the argument before the Court last year and the benefit of further reflection, and I think that allowing the case to go to the jury is a good standard except for my proviso that if it was close and the... was in equipoise, then the benefit ought to go to obtaining the reason because it is a discovery-type request.

Antonin Scalia:

--Well, I was just admiring your... your proposal in that at least it relied on something that the lower courts are used to applying.

I mean, I guess, is there enough to go to the jury?

My goodness, it's a standard test.

But you've suddenly destroyed it all by saying it isn't quite that because, you know, if it's... if it's really close, the tie goes to the plaintiff, which is an unusual way for the tie to go.

The tie usually goes to the other side.

Stephen B. Bedrick:

The tie goes here to... the standard would be fine with... with or without the benefit of a tie.

I would be happy with the standard either way.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, what's the standard under title VII when we talk about that, when we talk about enough evidence to shift the burden of proof?

Is that something less?

Stephen B. Bedrick:

The standard under title VII is something less, Your Honor, because under title VII, under McDonnell Douglas, the plaintiff has to prove four factors, that the plaintiff was a member of a protected group, protected minority group; that the plaintiff was qualified for a job and applied; that the plaintiff was rejected; and that the position stayed open.

Those four--