Thursday, September 26, 2013

Jury Duty: Who Are Your Peers?

What is a peer?

Well according to the dictionary a peer is a person who belongs to the same age group or social group as someone else.  A peer is one that is of equal standing with another or especially one who belongs to the same societal group based on age, grade or status.

You have a constitutional right to a criminal trial by a jury of your peers. I will leave it up to the experts like The Janitor or Old Guru to fully break down exactly what are the exceptions to that rule and what peers mean in a legal setting but for many non-lawyers I think it's safe to say that in that context peers would mean adult US citizens. There are of course some questions about whether or not a criminal defendant is guaranteed to have a jury made up of people who share their immutable characteristics (I don't believe this is the case) or whether the state can deliberately and maliciously exclude people who share such characteristics with the defendant (also I don't think this is, with a few exceptions, the case).

But in today's world of ever increasing globalization and immigration, should peer be restricted to US citizens? And when it comes to such things as elections and jury duty who really gets the last word? The federal government or the states? Well that answer can often depend on which side you're on when it comes to such things as immigration. People who point to federal supremacy when a state like Arizona tries to make life more difficult for illegal immigrants often turn a blind eye when a state like California tries to make life easier for them. And people who scream about the primacy of states rights when Alabama attempts to kick out illegal immigrants wax poetic about federal supremacy when California, Illinois or New York try to do end runs around specific federal programs designed to identify and deport illegal immigrants.

The latest proposal coming out of, you guessed it, California, does not, despite what detractors imply, apply to illegal immigrants, but it does seek to extend rights and duties usually thought only to accrue to citizens to legally resident non-citizens.

SACRAMENTO — Legal immigrants who are not American citizens would be able to serve on juries in California under a bill that lawmakers sent to Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday.The measure joins a proposal already on the governor's desk that would also allow legal permanent residents to serve as poll workers in California elections.The bills are among a handful that would expand immigrant rights in California and have sparked rancorous debate in the Legislature.
Immigrants "are part of the fabric of our community," Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) said during the floor debate Thursday. "They benefit from the protections of our laws, so it is fair and just that they be asked to share in the obligation to do jury duty."
Republicans opposed the measure, which passed the Assembly with a bare majority. The Senate approved the bill Monday."I do think there is something called the jury of your peers," countered Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside). "Peers are people who understand the nuances of America."
He noted that some immigrants come from countries where suspects are guilty until proven innocent and where people are taught to obey authority, not question it.The bill, AB 1401, was authored by the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which seeks a way to expand the pool of eligible jurors in California...
I think you can probably guess what I think of this proposal but just in case you can't I will spell it out. There is an argument that can be made for the elimination of the nation state. There is also an argument that can be made that nationalism is just another form of bigotry and them vs. us thinking. You could argue that separating people or granting them rights based on where they were born on this planet is not really all that different than basing their level of rights on other characteristics over which they have no control such as their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc. Non-citizens have legally voted in previous elections.
I am wholly unsympathetic to these arguments. The nation state isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Neither are different cultures and different ways of understanding the world or different ideas about how a criminal justice system works.
There is a process by which anyone on this planet can become an American citizen. Depending on which year you're referencing, about a million or so do each year, in which case they can vote, serve on juries and do other things which, usually but not always in the American political system have been reserved to citizens. When you vote or serve on a jury you are exerting influence over a political system you are invested in and for which you have some form of loyalty or hopefully understanding. This isn't perfect of course. There are plenty of stupid or malicious people who vote or serve on juries (how else can you explain the election of Ted Cruz or the acquittal of Casey Anthony) but that is our system. In many respects it's the least bad of all the others.  
My peers are American citizens. I do not wish to be judged by non-citizens. I do not want American elections to have non-citizens participating in them as poll workers or really in any capacity. I know that there are many smart, sober, well-read and intellectually curious permanent non-citizens in this country. I work with several and have no problems saying that some are far more intelligent than I. All the same though this isn't their country unless and until they become a citizen. I don't think it's too much to ask that jury duty and any sort of election work be restricted to US citizens.  

Am I wrong?

Should permanent legal residents be able to serve on juries?

What should be the distinctions between citizens and legal residents?

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