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Sunday, January 24, 2010

President Obama on Jury Duty?

As we explain in the chapter on the judiciary, trial by jury is an important principle of the nation's legal system. Jury duty is also a key obligation of citizenship. A reminder comes from The Chicago Sun-Times:

To serve or not to serve? Is that the question?

• Translation: TV titan Oprah Winfrey may have honored her Cook County Circuit Court Jury summons, but it's a good bet President Obama won't.

. . . better things to do.

. . . the nation to worry about.

. . . the economy to fix.

. . . health-care bill to rework.

"The president won't be expected to show up, but I'm sure he has already received his summons and responded," a top court source said. "The jury summons contains his Kenwood address and is for a jury trial on Monday."

The president has a legitimate excuse, but in most cases, citizens must show up when they get the summons. The rich and powerful are not exempt. In 2004, Oprah Winfrey served on a jury in a murder trial. (The verdict: guilty.) Other celebrities from politics and the arts have also served.

Jury service leaves most participants feeling proud and better informed. Tocqueville explained that the deliberative process enhances civic virtue:
Juries are wonderfully effective in shaping a nation’s judgment and increasing its natural lights. That, in my view, is [the jury system’s] greatest advantage. It should be regarded as a free school which is always open and in which each juror learns his rights, comes into daily contact with the best-educated and most-enlightened members of the upper classes, and is given practical lessons in the law, lessons which the advocate’s efforts, the judge’s advice, and also the very passions of the litigants bring within his mental grasp. I think that the main reason for the practical intelligence and the political good sense of the Americans is their long experience with juries in civil cases.

I do not know whether a jury is useful to the litigants, but I am sure it is very good for those who have to decide the case. I regard it as one of the most effective means of popular education at society’s disposal.