"...the most effective means of popular education at society’s disposal."
February 18, 2008 3:28 PM   Subscribe

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.
Dissent offers commentaries on jury duty from Alexis de Toqueville, Joanne Barkan, Paul Berman, Susan Cheever, Nicolaus Mills, Maxine Phillips, Ruth Rosen, Jim Sleeper, Michael Walzer, and Darryl Lorrenzo Wellington.

Also of interest:
Condorcet's Jury Theorem
List and Goodin on Epistemic Democracy (pdf)
posted by anotherpanacea (8 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Gracias! I have a summons for jury duty at the circuit court next Tuesday (unless the case settles the night before or morning of), and so it's serendipitous to get some timely context for my civic duty gig.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:05 PM on February 18, 2008

I was summoned about seven years ago and actually made the cut. It was a civil suit for medical damages following a car accident. The trial was interesting. The actual deliberation, though, was run roughshod over by this alpha-male former cop who was big into loudness and intimidation. In the end, though, I though we came up with a thoroughly original distribution of damage awards. Even the judge did a double-take when she looked at what we had submitted.

I'd serve again in a heartbeat.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:34 PM on February 18, 2008

The writer Madison Smartt Bell wrote an article (did I see it on Metafilter?) about his recent jury duty.
posted by jayder at 6:56 PM on February 18, 2008

this should come in handy, I have jury duty on March 4th.

posted by timsteil at 7:08 PM on February 18, 2008

The jury system is at the heart of our ancient liberties. Without it, the promise of the rest of our freedoms would be empty.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:30 PM on February 18, 2008

The jury system is at the heart of our ancient liberties. Without it, the promise of the rest of our freedoms would be empty.

Our jury system is interesting, because it's actually fairly bizarre. You don't have an absolute right to a jury in all cases. This shocked me when I first learned it in law school. The reason is that the 7th Amendment says that "In Suits at common law...the right of trial by jury shall be preserved...". This has been taken to mean, over the course of our history in various Supreme Court cases, that the right to trial by jury is preserved as it existed when the Bill of Rights was ratified, in 1791, in England. At that time, for various historical reasons, there were two court systems: the courts of common law, which could award monetary damages, and the chancery courts, which could make other awards based on equity. In 1791 in England, you got a jury in the common-law courts but not in the chancery courts. This distinction was held to have been part of what was "preserved" by the 7th Amendment.

So today, if you request a jury, a court must use a test developed by the Supreme Court: first, you must determine what 18th-century British action the current action is most similar to, then determine the nature of relief sought, then determine if a jury is capable and appropriate in making a decision in that case. If the balance of this test comes out on the common-law court side, you can get a jury. If it comes out on the equity side, you don't.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:32 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

ahh, great link. thank you. i did not know about dissent magazine, and found on it a good link to a book forum article talking about the romanticized death of the american, freelance intellectual. particularly an era that wasn’t all incisive essay writing and dialectical knife juggling...Bohemia can be fun if you have money; otherwise, it is hard on the nerves.
posted by refractal at 9:02 PM on February 18, 2008

That was great, thanks.
posted by tiny crocodile at 3:57 AM on February 19, 2008

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