I’m a cheerleader for jury duty. It is one of the few rituals of our political system that respects the experience and common sense of the ordinary citizen, and that puts a premium on an open mind. A collection of strangers from disparate backgrounds, in pursuit of a common purpose–justice–is the founders’ vision in microcosm. Sure, we can all think of cases where a jury was razzle-dazzled by a skillful attorney, or lost in the complications of evidence, or swayed by popular prejudice. But judges are human, too. And a jury can soften the rough edges of the law.
Yes, respect for the experience and common sense of the ordinary citizen: i.e., the use of force to compel people away from their chosen endeavors, for the munificent remuneration of $5-40 a day, in order to rectify the incompetence of “human, all too human” (but well-compensated) judges, without the benefit of any written version of the statutes they are adjudicating, without the right to take notes on a blank sheet of paper, and perpetually at the beck and call of the same judges for the slightest question or clarification of mind-numbingly complex statutes that were not particularly well-drafted in the first place, have not been particularly well explained to the jurors, and whose details are not intrinsically easy to remember. Hard to think of a finer, more reliable, more just, and more commonsensical way to decide questions of life or death, liberty or imprisonment, guilt or innocence.
Read the rest of Keller’s sub-Tocquevillian narrative, which is driven by the red herring of the debate over immigration and nativism. Apparently, the one thing that matters to Keller, and that supersedes all other concerns, is “inclusivity.” As long as we’re forcing all kinds of people–black, white, young, old, gay, straight, etc. etc.–to do the bidding of the state for very little compensation, all is well with the world.
That we’re forcing them to do it, that we’re inconveniencing them, that the official excuses for avoiding jury don’t cover that much and are hard to invoke, that jurors frequently go disrespected by officers of the court, that we’re paying them next to nothing (far, far below the much-beloved minimum wage, which evidently doesn’t apply to the precincts of “justice,” where you’d think it matters most to the people who love it so), that the whole “ritual” involves downright disrespect for the mind from beginning to end, that people’s guilt/innocence and liberty/imprisonment are held hostage to a romanticized pseudo-conception of the Greek polis (not that great in the first place, as Socrates will tell you): none of this matters. The only question for Keller is: can we impose this wonderful system on on non-citizens, too, in a spirit of fraternal and ubiquitous compulsion for absolutely everyone, without exception?
If this is “respect for common sense,” I would really hate to witness its violation.