When Presidents attack…

In The Jury and Democracy, we noted that although juries had high approval ratings in general, conservative political attacks on the civil jury had done damage to the reputation of such bodies. Now a sitting U.S. President has attacked the criminal jury that heard the case against one of President Trumps longtime allies.

The target of the complaint was a juror who had previously critized the Trump administration on social media, a fact that isn’t in dispute. Judges have the authority to refuse attorneys’ requests to dismiss a juror based on his/her political views. After all, roughly half of Americans disapprove of the Trump administration, with substantially higher negative ratings coming from the overwhelmingly Democratic residents of the District of Columbia residents. A jury representative of the District would have jurors who hold both negative views of Trump but who can pledge to avoid bias in considering the case before them.

When Trump attacked the jury. It wasn’t long until one of the jurors stepped forward. A Reuters story quoted Seth Cousins:

“It feels like something outrageous is going on…I think it is appalling for the president of the United States to be attacking American citizens for patriotically fulfilling their duties…As a whole group, and in every single conversation that I was involved in or overheard, we never discussed politics as a jury. I have no idea what anyone’s political affiliation is.

Cousins added that since the trial, the jurors kept in touch, as happens often in high-profile cases where jurors have time to bond. Cousins attested that they all “echo the sense of being appalled. Maybe a little bit betrayed.”

After all, serving on a jury is an obligation when summoned. It’s a duty carried out at great inconvenience to the jurors on behalf of their city, county, state, or nation. Juries certainly make mistakes, as do judges, but to attack their credibility without direct evidence of bias in the jury process undermines the institution of the jury itself.

About jgastil

John Gastil is Head and Professor in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at The Pennsylvania State University, where he specializes in political deliberation and group decision making.
This entry was posted in Conducting trials, Public/media views of juries, Social/political impact of juries, Voir dire and jury selection. Bookmark the permalink.

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