Miller-El v. Dretke

PETITIONER:Thomas Joe Miller-El
RESPONDENT:Doug Dretke, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division
LOCATION:Meramec River

DOCKET NO.: 03-9659
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 545 US (2005)
GRANTED: Jun 28, 2004
ARGUED: Dec 06, 2004
DECIDED: Jun 13, 2005

Gena A. Bunn – argued the cause for Respondent
Seth P. Waxman – argued the cause for Petitioner

Facts of the case

Miller-El alleged the prosecution in his capital murder trial violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause by excluding 10 of 11 blacks from the jury. The jury convicted Miller-El and he was sentenced to death. State courts rejected Miller-El’s appeals and ruled Miller-El failed to meet the requirements for proving jury-selection discrimination outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court inBatson v. Kentucky (1986). Miller-El then appealed to a federal district court. The district court rejected Miller-El’s appeal and ruled the court must defer to the state courts’ acceptance of prosecutors’ race-neutral justifications for striking potential jurors. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed and ruled a federal court could only grant an appeal if the applicant made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.

Miller-El appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and inMiller-El v. Cockrell (2003) the Court ruled the Fifth Circuit should have accepted Miller- El’s appeal to review the district court’s ruling. The Supreme Court said an appeal should have been granted if the petitioner could demonstrate reasonable jurists could disagree with the district court’s decision. The Court said the district court did not give full consideration to the substantial evidence Miller-El presented. The Fifth Circuit reconsidered Miller-El’s appeal and ruled Miller-El failed to show clear and convincing evidence that the state court was wrong to find no purposeful discrimination.


  1. Did the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, by rejecting Miller-El’s claim the prosecution purposefully excluded blacks from his jury, violate the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller-El v. Cockrell (2003)? 2. Did the Texas jury selection manual encourage unconstitutional disparate questioning based on race?

Media for Miller-El v. Dretke

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 06, 2004 in Miller-El v. Dretke

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 13, 2005 in Miller-El v. Dretke

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in Miller-El versus Dretke and the opinion of the Court in Grable & Sons Metal Products versus Darue Engineering will both be announced by Justice Souter.

David H. Souter:

First, the opinion in Miller-El.

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

In 1986, the petitioner, Miller-El, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.

Miller-El brought a Federal petition for writ of habeas corpus in which he alleges that the prosecutors in his trial made peremptory strikes of potential jurors based on race in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The District Court denied relief.

Two terms ago, this Court decided that the Fifth Circuit was in error in failing to grant Miller-El permission to appeal the District Court’s denial of his petition for writ of habeas corpus.

Reviewing the evidence, we found that the merits of Miller-El’s claim were debatable at the least.

On remand, the Fifth Circuit heard the appeal and rejected the claim of discriminatory jury selection.

In an opinion filed today with the Clerk of the Court, we again reverse the judgment of the Fifth Circuit and hold that Miller-El has made out his discrimination claim.

The prosecution in his case peremptorily struck at least two black potential jurors who expressed views similar to those of non-black panelists who are not strucked.

And there were other indications of racial discrimination by the prosecutors.

They used the tactic known as the jury shuffle or the random rearranging of the seating order of panel members when black panelists were concentrated at the top of the order of questioning.

They described the death penalty in graphic detail to black panelists more often than to others to weed out the black panelists by prompting them to express opposition to the death penalty.

They also asked manipulative questions about the minimum punishment for murder more often to black panelists.

And these prosecutors who are trained in a District Attorney’s Office that used a manual recommending the exclusion of minorities from juries made notes of the race of every panelist.

The State Court’s findings of no discrimination were unreasonable.

The case is remanded for entry of judgment for Miller-El.

Justice Breyer has filed a concurring opinion; Justice Thomas has filed a dissenting opinion, in which the Chief Justice and Justice Scalia join.