The Value of a Jury System

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The Value of a Jury System

The Founders of our nation understood that no idea was more central to our Bill of Rights -- indeed, to government of the people, by the people, and for the people -- than the citizen jury. It was cherished not only as a bulwark against tyranny but also as an essential means of educating Americans in the habits and duties of citizenship. By enacting the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendments to the Constitution, the Framers sought to install the right to trial by jury as a cornerstone of a free society.

The Framers of the Constitution felt that juries -- because they were composed of ordinary citizens and because they owed no financial allegiance to the government -- were indispensable to thwarting the
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Tocqueville keenly understood these linkages: "The jury system as understood in America seems to me to be as direct and extreme a consequence of the . . . sovereignty of the people as universal suffrage. They are both equally powerful means of making the majority prevail. The jury is above all a political institution [and] should be made to harmonize with the other laws establishing the sovereignty . For society to be governed in a settled and uniform manner, it is essential that the jury lists should expand or shrink with the lists of voters .

"[In general] in America all citizens who are electors have the right to be jurors."

We have come to think of voting as the quintessential act of democratic participation. Historically, the role of the people in serving on juries was often likened to the role of voters selecting legislative bodies, and even to the role of legislators themselves. Indeed, the jury 's place in the judicial framework was closely related to the idea of bicameralism: Just as the legislature comprised two equal branches, an upper and a lower, juries and judges constituted the lower and upper branches, respectively, of the judicial department.

The Supreme Court has reinforced the linkage of jury service and voting as part of a "package" of political rights. For example, in a 1991 case challenging race-based exclusions in jury selection, Justice Anthony Kennedy observed in his majority opinion that "with the
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