Chance News 9
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Supreme Court Nominee Alilto: Statistics Misleading?
An article in Salon.com for October 31 discusses the first-degree murder trial, Riley v. Taylor. The defendant Riley was African-American; at the trial, the prosecution used its peremptory challenges to eliminate all three of the African-Americans on the jury panel. In the same county that year, there were three other first-degree murder trials, and in every one of those cases all of the African-American jurors were struck.
A majority of the judges in the appeals court thought that there was evidence that jurors were struck for racial reasons. According to them, a simple calculation indicates that there should have been five African-American jurors amongst the forty-eight that were empanelled. However, there were none. To these judges, this was clear evidence of racial motivaion in the striking of such jurors.
Judge Alito dissented. He called the majority's analysis simplistic, and pointed out that although only 10% of the U.S. population is left-handed, five of the last presidents of the United States have been left-handed. He asked rhetorically whether this indicated bias against right-handers amongst the U.S. electorate.
The majority responded that there is no provision in the Constitution that protects persons from discrimination based on whether they are right-handed or left-handed, and that to compare these cases with the handedness of presidents ignores the history of racial discrimination in the United States.
1) Assuming that Judge Alito is correct about the proportion of left-handers in the U.S. population, what is the probability that five of six presidents would be left-handed?
2) Is Judge Alito's comparison possibly biased by the fact that he chose just the last six presidents? Presumably the president just before that was right-handed, otherwise he would have included him in the sample and said "six of the last seven presidents." Isn't the relevant statistic one based on a sample of all presidents?
3) Suppose that 5/48 of the jury pool were African-American. What is the probability that no juror amongst the 48 selected would have been African-American? How does this compare with the statistics of left-handed presidents? Does the same objection apply to this case as might apply to Alito's example?
4) What is your opinion? Is there clear statistical evidence of racial bias in the use of peremptory challenges in this county?
Contributed by Bill Jefferys
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