On the eve of America’s Independence Day (July 4), legal scholar Andrew Ferguson has a new op-ed about jury duty, which plays up its potential role as “the most American thing you can do.” At CNN.com, Ferguson explains that “serving as a juror not only embodies political, civic, and community participation, but is a unifying act of American pride.”
Ferguson, the author of “Why Jury Duty Matters,” doesn’t hold back when belting out his song of praise for the jury:
Go to any trial courtroom, be it a preserved replica in Colonial Williamsburg or the most modern federal courthouse and you will see the same seats built into the structure of the courtroom, and, thus, the court system. Every year since the founding, those seats have been filled by people asked to swear the same type of oath, listen to the same types of evidence, and make the same hard decisions — together.
The ritual of jury duty has repeated daily in courtrooms across America, linking citizens in big cities and small towns, conservative and progressives, and everyone in between.
For some, that may be too much to take–given the unjust verdicts juries have reached, the exclusion of women and minorities for much of its history, and so on. It bears repeating, though, that juries have often been a positive force for social change, such as when they have expressed public outrage on civil trials of polluting corporations or refused to convict on grounds of conscience.
Even when constrained by the biases and ignorance of a given moment in history, the jury still held out the promise of a legal system in which lay citizens had a voice. The fulfillment of that promise in the modern jury is a feature of American democracy many nations, from Argentina to South Korea, have sought to emulate. To that extent, Ferguson’s song of the jury rings true.