Frazier v. United States, 335 U.S. 497 (1948)

Author: Justice Jackson

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Frazier v. United States, 335 U.S. 497 (1948)

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON, dissenting.

On one proposition I should expect trial lawyers to be nearly unanimous: that a jury, every member of which is in the hire of one of the litigants, lacks something of being an impartial jury. A system which has produced such an objectionable result and always tends to repeat it should, in my opinion, be disapproved by this Court in exercise of its supervisory power over federal courts.

Were the employer an individual, a railroad, an industrial concern, or even a state, I think bias would more readily be implied; but its existence would be no more probable. This criminal trial was an adversary proceeding, with the Government both an actual and nominal litigant. It was the patron and benefactor of the whole jury, plus one juror’s wife for good measure. At the same time that it made its plea to them to convict, it had the upper hand of every one of them in matters such as pay and promotion. Of late years, the Government is using its power as never before to pry into their lives and thoughts upon the slightest suspicion of less than complete trustworthiness. It demands not only probity, but unquestioning ideological loyalty. A government employee cannot today be disinterested or unconcerned about his appearance of faithful and enthusiastic support for government departments whose prestige and record are, somewhat, if only a little, at stake in every such prosecution. And prosecutors seldom fail to stress, if not to exaggerate, the importance of the case before them to the whole social, if not the cosmic, order. Even if we have no reason to believe that an acquitting juror would be subjected to embarrassments or reprisals, we cannot expect every clerk and messenger in the great bureaucracy to feel so secure as to put his dependence on the Government wholly out of mind. I do not doubt that the government employees, as a class, possess a normal independence and fortitude. But we have grounds to assume also that the normal proportion of them are subject to that very human weakness, especially displayed in Washington, which leads men to " . . . crook the pregnant hinges of the knee where thrift may follow fawning." So I reject as spurious any view that government employment differs from all other employment in creating no psychological pressure of dependency or interest in gaining favor which might tend to predetermine issues in the interest of the party which has complete mastery over the juror’s ambition and position. But, even if this suspicion can be dismissed by the Court as a mere phantasy, it cannot deny that such a jury has a one-sided outlook on problems before it, and an appearance of government leverage which is itself a blemish on the name of justice in the District of Columbia.

Because this semblance of partiality reflects on the courts, even if it does not prejudice the defendant in a particular case, I am not disposed to labor the argument as to whether counsel for this defendant did all that he might or should have done by way of objection. He did protest as soon as it was apparent what was happening to him, and that seems to me sufficient in face of adverse rulings. But even if defendant’s objection were belated or technically defective, I still think the court deserves, and should require, a more neutral jury for its own appearances, even if defendant does not deserve and cannot demand one.

The cause of overloading this jury with persons beholden to the Government is no mystery, and no accident. It is due to a defect in a system which will continue to operate in the same direction so long as the same practice is followed. While counsel did not prove it under oath, he stated it for the record, and neither the District Attorney nor the learned Trial Judge, both of whom must have known the facts, denied or questioned his statement, or asked him for better evidence. That defect is this: when the panel of jurors was drawn, the court appears to have asked all those who did not wish to serve to step aside, and they were excused from serving.

This amiable concession in some jurisdictions might produce no distortion of the composition of the panel; but it is certain to do just that in the District of Columbia because of the dual standard and dubious method of jury compensation. The nongovernment juror receives $4 per day,{1} which, under present conditions, is inadequate to be compensatory to nearly every gainfully employed juror. But the government employee is not paid specially; instead, he is given leave from his government work with full pay while serving on the jury.{2} The latter class are thus induced to jury service by protection against any financial loss, while the former are subjected to considerable disadvantage.

This condition makes it obvious that, if jury service is put on virtually a voluntary basis and qualified persons are allowed to decline jury service at their own option, the panel will become loaded with government employees. If this undue concentration of such jurors were accomplished by any device which excluded nongovernment jurors, it unquestionably would be condemned not only by reason of, but even without resort to the doctrine that prevailed in, Ballard v. United States, 329 U.S. 187; Thiel v. Southern Pacific Co., 328 U.S. 217, and Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60.

Is the result more lawful when it is accomplished by letting one class exclude themselves, stimulated to do so by the incentive of such a dual system of compensation?

Of course, the defendant and the prosecution each have peremptory challenges, ten in this case, which enable each, without assigning any cause, to excuse that number whom they do not wish to have sit. This defendant used many of his challenges to excuse talesmen not employed by the Government, and it is hinted that he may have packed this jury against himself. The learned Trial Judge made no such suggestion, however, and he would be better able than we to detect such tactics. He blamed the situation on "chance." But the fickle goddess is hardly to be blamed for the result when it can be seen that the cards were stacked from the beginning. This was plainly the case when we contrast unequal advantages which the two parties could get from their equal numbers of challenges.

The Government was confronted by no occasion to use any of its peremptory challenges to get rid of its adversary’s employees. The defendant was. But, if the defendant should try to use his challenges to excuse employees of the Government, he would dismiss one only to incur a probability of getting another. If he exhausted his challenges in this effort, it would still be futile, for no one claims he had enough to displace them all. It might not be wise tactics to show suspicion or disapproval of a class some of whom will have to sit anyway. Moreover, if he used his challenges as far as they would go to dislodge government servants, it would leave him helpless to challenge any of the nongovernment jurors, for which challenge he might have good reason.

The disadvantage of defendant as to talesmen from government ranks is more apparent, but not more more prejudicial, than with talesmen from other walks of life. Whatever reason he may have had for excusing such a one, the price he would probably have had to pay for using his challenge was to have one government employee take another’s place. The Government could vacate the seat of a nongovernment talesman with no such unwelcome results. The short of the thing is: in no case where the court has intervened to use its supervisory power to revise federal jury systems has there been any result so consistently and inevitably prejudicial to one of the litigants as here, under our noses. Ballard v. United States, 329 U.S. 187; Thiel v. Southern Pacific, 328 U.S. 217; Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60. And in cases where a strong minority of the Court has wanted to go so far as to upset a state jury system as offensive to fundamental consideration of justice spelled out from the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, there has been no such brazen unfairness in actual practice. Moore v. New York, 333 U.S. 565; Fay v. New York, 332 U.S. 261.

The precedent of United States v. Wood, 299 U.S. 123, on which the Court leans heavily, is a weak crutch. That decision held only that the absolute disqualification of any federal employee, which had been declared in Crawford v. United States, 212 U.S. 183, could constitutionally be removed by the Congress. In the case the Court was considering, only three out of the twelve were, by chance, government beneficiaries, and the Court was not confronted with such a systematic distortion of the jury as was at work here. It held that, individually, they were not subject to challenge for cause -- that is, they were not excusable by the court merely because they were government employees. But to hold that one or a few government employees may sit by chance is no precedent for holding that they may fill all of the chairs by a system of retiring everyone else. Furthermore, that opinion emphasized that the prosecution in that case was for larceny from a private corporation. That was not an offense against the Federal Government as such, except as it has responsibility for prosecuting crimes in the District that, in the state, would be a matter of no federal concern or even jurisdiction. But the prosecution before us is not for an offense of a private aspect; it is an offense against no one except federal government policy, and the Secretary of the Treasury, in whose own office one of these jurors was employed, has exclusive and nationwide responsibility for enforcement of the law involved.

If we admit every fact, premise, argument, and conclusion stated in the Court’s opinion, it still leaves this one situation unexplained and unjustified. In federal courts, over which we have supervisory power, sitting almost within a stone’s throw of where we sit, a system is in operation which has produced and is likely again and again to produce what disinterested persons are likely to regard as a packed jury. Approval of it, after all that has been written of late on the subject of juries, makes these lofty pronouncements sound a little hollow.

I would reverse this rather insignificant conviction and end this system before it builds up into a scandalous necessity for reversal of some really significant conviction.


1. D.C.Code, title 11, § 1513 (1940).

2. D.C.Code, title 11, §§ 1421-23 (1940).


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Chicago: Jackson, "Jackson, J., Dissenting," Frazier v. United States, 335 U.S. 497 (1948) in 335 U.S. 497 335 U.S. 515–Joint_335 U.S. 520. Original Sources, accessed July 12, 2024,

MLA: Jackson. "Jackson, J., Dissenting." Frazier v. United States, 335 U.S. 497 (1948), in 335 U.S. 497, pp. 335 U.S. 515–Joint_335 U.S. 520. Original Sources. 12 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Jackson, 'Jackson, J., Dissenting' in Frazier v. United States, 335 U.S. 497 (1948). cited in 1948, 335 U.S. 497, pp.335 U.S. 515–Joint_335 U.S. 520. Original Sources, retrieved 12 July 2024, from