The American Jury: The Bulwark of Democracy

tbj_juryJury service in the United States is unique among justice systems worldwide, so much
so that American juries have been called the “bulwark of democracy.” In fact, our Founding Fathers believed trial by a jury of one’s peers to be of equal importance with representative government, and both concepts were integral in drafting the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson said, “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet devised by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” Well over two hundred years later, Jefferson’s anchor still holds fast, despite repeated attempts to dislodge it.

But is the jury system at risk? Regretfully, yes. More and more arbitration clauses, anti-consumer legislation, and anecdotal horror stories about “frivolous lawsuits” and “out of control jury verdicts” have put a damper on the number of civil cases that go before a jury. Coincidentally, a recent nationwide poll shows that a majority of Americans do not mind jury service and view it as a privilege and an active part of democracy. It is ironic that in a time of declining access to the courthouse, most of us are willing to serve as jurors.

Quite simply, jurors level the playing field in the search for justice. My favorite fictional lawyer, Atticus Finch, says in that classic book To Kill a Mockingbird, “The only place where a man ought to get a square deal is in the courtroom.” How true. The next time you open the mail to find a jury summons, I hope you’ll take a moment to reflect on the importance of jury service and perhaps groan a little softer. And I hope your experience as a juror is rewarding and meaningful.