Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42, 13 (1992)

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Opinion of the Court

Polk County did not hold that the adversarial relationship of a public defender with the State precludes a finding of state action—it held that this adversarial relationship prevented the attorney's public employment from alone being sufficient to support a finding of state action. Instead, the determination whether a public defender is a state actor for a particular purpose depends on the nature and context of the function he is performing. For example, in Branti v. Finkel, 445 U. S. 507 (1980), this Court held that a public defender, in making personnel decisions on behalf of the State, is a state actor who must comply with constitutional requirements. And the Polk County Court itself noted, without deciding, that a public defender may act under color of state law while performing certain administrative, and possibly investigative, functions. See 454 U. S., at 325.

The exercise of a peremptory challenge differs significantly from other actions taken in support of a defendant's defense. In exercising a peremptory challenge, a criminal defendant is wielding the power to choose a quintessential governmental body—indeed, the institution of government on which our judicial system depends. Thus, as we held in Edmonson, when "a government confers on a private body the power to choose the government's employees or officials, the private body will be bound by the constitutional mandate of race neutrality." 500 U. S., at 625.

Lastly, the fact that a defendant exercises a peremptory challenge to further his interest in acquittal does not conflict with a finding of state action. Whenever a private actor's conduct is deemed "fairly attributable" to the government, it is likely that private motives will have animated the actor's decision. Indeed, in Edmonson, the Court recognized that the private party's exercise of peremptory challenges constitwo inquiries are the same, see, e. g., Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U. S. 830, 838 (1982), and has specifically extended Polk County's reasoning to state-action cases, see Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U. S. 991, 1009, n. 20 (1982).

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