Supreme Court Review

Article Title

Mississippi Goddamn: Flowers v Mississippi’s Cheap Racial Justice


Flowers v Mississippi is a Supreme Court case about a man who was tried six times for the same crimes. The trials took place over a span of twenty-one years. In four of the trials, there was a conviction, but appellate courts reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct. In the other two trials, the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, and the judge declared a mistrial. Curtis Flowers was charged with murdering four people—Robert Golden, Carmen Rigby, Bertha Tardy, and Derrick Stewart—in a small town in Mississippi. Mr. Flowers is African American. Doug Evans, the district attorney who was the lead prosecutor in all six trials, is white. Winona, Mississippi, where the killings occurred, is roughly 53 percent black and 46 percent white. The issue in Flowers was whether, in Mr. Flowers’s sixth trial, the prosecutor improperly struck African American potential jurors in violation of Batson v Kentucky. In criminal trials each side has a limited number of peremptory strikes by which it can remove prospective jurors. Traditionally, peremptory strikes could be exercised “for any reason or no reason at all,” but Batson and its progeny prohibit race- and gender-based strikes. In Mr. Flowers’s sixth trial, the state had exercised peremptory strikes against five of the six black prospective jurors. In the six trials combined, the prosecution employed its peremptory challenges to strike forty-one of forty-two African American prospective jurors. In the sixth trial Mr. Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death. In a 7–2 decision, the Supreme Court reversed the conviction. Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion, which found that the trial judge erred when he ruled that the prosecution’s strike of one African American prospective juror, Carolyn Wright, was not “motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.”

Full text not available in ChicagoUnbound.