OPINION – When my summons to federal jury duty arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, I was elated. This has not always been my reaction upon receiving such a notice in the mail.
Few of us have time to spare away from work, family, and all the other day-to-day concerns of life. To some, getting out of jury duty is a lot like winning a lottery of sorts. Of course, the reward in this case is that you get to simply keep doing what you normally do. But I don’t see jury duty as something to escape.
In a time of perpetually expanding government, too often justice seems only to serve the interests of the state. This is not a new phenomenon.
Plato’s Republic contains a powerful dialogue between Socrates and Thrasymachus in which they debate what justice is and why we should or shouldn’t strive to be just.
Thrasymachus argues that, “justice is nothing more than the advantage of the stronger.” He goes on to argue, in true sophist tradition, that, “Injustice, if it on a large enough scale, is stronger, firmer, more masterful than justice.”
What Thrasymachus is suggesting is that, under any type of government, those in power will invariably pass and enforce laws that are to their own advantage. In other words, justice will typically only favor those with the most power.
This is where the jury serves as an indispensable check on state power to ensure that justice actually prevails. In fact, the more I’ve studied the foundations of liberty, the more I’m convinced that jury duty is more of an honor than an imposition. And that’s why I was happy to be called up last week.
Upon reporting to the new Fifth District courthouse, our pool of 45 potential jurors was asked to fill out a questionnaire and shown video presentation on federal jury duty. The staff at the courthouse was professional and supremely helpful in every way.
Courthouses are, by their very nature, a bit daunting to those who have spent little time inside one. This is because the decisions made within their walls can literally deprive individuals of life, liberty and property according to the laws of the land.
All visitors are thoroughly screened upon entering the courthouse. Security is ever-present and obvious. Lawyers bustle about looking, well, lawyerly. A sense of soberness and custom surrounds every official action. It would be easy to get a sense that the deck is stacked overwhelmingly in the government’s favor.
We were introduced to the judge in his courtroom and heard the indictment read against the accused. The judge then informed us of the role that we would be expected to play as potential jurors. He made it clear that an accusation is not the same thing as a conviction and that the jury fills a critical role in ensuring that justice is done.
As often as I criticize the heavy-handedness of the federal government, I was impressed with how seriously the requirements of due process were observed within this courtroom. It’s no exaggeration to say that the proceedings did much to restore my faith in a justice system that sometimes appears to follow the thinking of Thrasymachus.
After taking an oath of service, it took the better part of the morning for each potential juror to introduce himself or herself and share any relevant information regarding ties to law enforcement or legal training. Because the case to be tried involved drugs, there were also questions about whether we could remain impartial regarding the case.
After a short recess, the jury pool was back in the courtroom and the prosecution and defense were allowed to conduct their peremptory exclusion of those jurors they did not wish to seat. They agreed on twelve individuals to sit as jurors for the two-day trial and dismissed the rest of us in time for lunch.
Not being seated as a juror left me feeling equal parts of relief and disappointment. It would have been instructive to continue on with the trial that ultimately resulted in an acquittal.
But I was grateful for the experience and reassured to see with my own eyes that the concept of justice is not simply a matter the interest of the stronger.
Consider this the next time a call to jury duty shows up in your mailbox.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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