Norris v. Alabama (1935)

Primary tabs

Norris v. Alabama (1935) is one of several cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in relation to the trial of the “Scottsboro Boys,” nine young African-American men, one of whom was Clarence Norris, who had been falsely accused and were tried for raping two white women.  In Norris v. Alabama, the Supreme Court overturned the Alabama Supreme Court in the Norris v. State decision, in which the court had found no abuse of discretion by the appellate court in dismissing Norris’s claim that his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment had been violated due to “long continued, systematic and arbitrary exclusion” of African Americans from the trial venire.

The US Supreme Court, in an 8-0 decision, reversed the conviction of Norris, finding that the evidence supported his equal protection challenge.  The Court further held that the records in the counties where the indictment had been returned and where the trial had been held demonstrated systematic and arbitrary exclusion of qualified African Americans from jury panels. Relying upon the precedent established in Strauder v. West Virginia (1879) and Neal v. Delaware (1880), the Court found that Norris had made out a prima facie case of discrimination.

For additional context and discussion of the effects of the holding, see Michael J. Klarman, The Racial Origins of Modern Criminal Procedure.

[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]