With the legal war over same-sex marriage continuing to unfold in courts around the country, a San Francisco federal appeals court is about to tackle another simmering gay rights issue -- whether gays and lesbians can be excluded from juries simply because of their sexual orientation.
Abbott Laboratories and rival pharmaceutical giant SmithKline Beecham triggered the conflict two years ago, when Abbott's attorneys bumped a prospective gay juror from a blockbuster San Francisco antitrust trial between the two companies. SmithKline's legal team cried foul, suggesting Abbott wanted to remove a gay juror from a trial focused on allegations the company dramatically jacked up the price of a crucial HIV treatment drug, a corporate move that sparked a furor in the gay community.
While Abbott denies any such motives, the maneuver sparked a major showdown over the unresolved question of whether a pivotal U.S. Supreme Court decision barring the exclusion of jurors based on race applies to gays and lesbians. And the case has underscored what gay advocates have known for years -- that same-sex marriage is only part of the legal drama in courts around the country over the extent of legal protections based on sexual orientation.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday will hear arguments in the Abbott v. SmithKline case, which legal experts say could reach the Supreme Court.
"It is symbolic," Vikram Amar, a UC Davis law professor, said of the gay juror issue. "But it's a very important symbol."