The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Monday, October 31, 2005

The first must-read piece on Alito

I suspect it won't be anywhere near the last.

James Riley was 22 years old when he and a man named Tyrone Baxter robbed a liquor store in Dover, Del. When the store's owner, a 59-year-old white man, resisted, Riley shot him in the leg. As Riley and Baxter fled, the man threw a wine bottle at them and shouted, "You fucking niggers." Riley fired another shot, hitting the man in the chest and killing him.

As you've probably guessed by now, Riley is black. All of the jurors who heard his case were white; prosecutors used peremptory challenges to remove all three African-Americans on the panel from which Riley's jury was chosen. There were three other first-degree murder trials in Kent County the year Riley was sentenced. Prosecutors struck all the black jurors from those trials, too.

Coincidence? A majority of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit didn't think so. "An amateur with a pocket calculator can calculate the number of blacks that would have served had the state used its strikes in a racially proportionate manner," the majority wrote. The majority did its own math and concluded that if the prosecutors in the four cases had used their peremptory challenges in a race-blind way, five of the 48 jurors in those cases would have been black. "Admittedly, there was no statistical analysis of these figures presented by either side in the post-conviction proceeding," the majority wrote. "But is it really necessary to have a sophisticated analysis by a statistician to conclude that there is little chance of randomly selecting four consecutive all white juries?"

Alito's response:

"The dangers in the majority's approach can be easily illustrated. Suppose we asked our 'amateur with a pocket calculator' whether the American people take right- or left-handedness into account in choosing their presidents. Although only about 10 percent of the population is left-handed, left-handers have won five of the last six presidential elections. Our 'amateur with a calculator' would conclude that 'there is little chance of randomly selecting' left-handers in five out of six presidential elections. But does it follow that the voters cast their ballots based on whether a candidate was right- or left-handed?"

It's a classic example of right-wing bigotry. 'Hey, I'm no racist-- I'm the only one ignoring race as a factor.' Not to mention being an incredibly asinine analogy.