Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42, 22 (1992)

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Cite as: 505 U. S. 42 (1992)

O'Connor, J., dissenting

precedents, but our cases do not compel this perverse result. To the contrary, our decisions specifically establish that criminal defendants and their lawyers are not government actors when they perform traditional trial functions.


It is well and properly settled that the Constitution's equal protection guarantee forbids prosecutors to exercise peremptory challenges in a racially discriminatory fashion. See Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U. S. 79 (1986); Powers v. Ohio, 499 U. S. 400, 409 (1991). The Constitution, however, affords no similar protection against private action. "Embedded in our Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence is a dichotomy between state action, which is subject to scrutiny under the Amendmen[t] . . . , and private conduct, against which the Amendment affords no shield, no matter how unfair that conduct may be." National Collegiate Athletic Assn. v. Tarkanian, 488 U. S. 179, 191 (1988) (footnote omitted). This distinction appears on the face of the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides that "No State shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." U. S. Const., Amdt. 14, 1 (emphasis added). The critical but straightforward question this case presents is whether criminal defendants and their lawyers, when exercising peremptory challenges as part of a defense, are state actors.

In Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U. S. 922 (1982), the Court developed a two-step approach to identifying state action in cases such as this. First, the Court will ask "whether the claimed deprivation has resulted from the exercise of a right or privilege having its source in state authority." Id., at 939. Next, it will decide whether, on the particular facts at issue, the parties who allegedly caused the deprivation of a federal right can "appropriately" and "in all fairness" be characterized as state actors. Ibid.; Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., 500 U. S. 614, 620 (1991). The


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