Much love for the jury has been coming of late from Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, Professor of Law at the David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia. He got the ball rolling when he published his book Why Jury Duty Matters, a nifty paperback from NYU Press that was meant to inspire the public to embrace the responsibility to serve on juries (and to appreciate the institution’s constitutional foundation).
This past week, he’s made a more succinct case for loving juries in “The Joy of Jury Duty,” an essay that appeared online in the Atlantic this week. Here’s a taste of what he has to say:
The invitation to jury service is…an invitation to understand our most basic national principles…It remains an American bond. It connects people across class, national origin, religion, and race. Jury experience exists as one of the remaining connecting threads in a wonderfully diverse United States. It links us to our founding principles and challenges us to live up to them. Every time you serve as a juror, you become closer to this constitutional spirit; and every time you reflect on and appreciate these principles, you strengthen our constitutional character. That is the joy of jury duty.
That view fits with our own findings, which we reported in The Jury & Democracy, though a caveat is in order: There is a smallish minority of jurors who have a genuinely frustrating and negative experience. We recorded those in our survey, and the more extreme cases of juror misery are so striking that they can make us forget that it’s the exception, not the rule.
Moreover, many jurors have an everyday, ho-hum experience in their service. That’s the norm, in fact, when one shows up for jury duty but never gets placed on a jury, but even those seated on juries sometimes come away unchanged, particularly if they already view themselves as active in public life.
The jury is most powerful for those with the least connection to their democracy. For those citizens, it’s a powerful reminder of what it feels like to be a vital part of self-government.