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Voting and Jury Duty

November 1, 2010

 

An elderly lady told me in no uncertain terms, “I am not registered to vote. I will never be registered to vote. It’s just not worth it.”

I did not understand.

“What do you mean it’s not worth it? Voting is one of our most cherished freedoms.”

“Yes, but if you register to vote, then they can call you to jury duty. It’s just not worth it!”

I was astounded!

I know most people would rather not serve on a jury; most regard jury duty as an inconvenience. Hardworking people who are self employed or work in small businesses find jury duty to be a major interruption. Even so, sacrificing the privilege to vote is a high price to pay to get out of jury duty.

Some say Americans have very short memory.  While the terror of September 11, 2001, is indelibly etched in our minds, we have become a war weary nation.  Pictures of wounded soldiers and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan are mind numbing. The casualty count increases daily.

Yet, there is one hopeful image from both Iraq and Afghanistan – people with blue thumbs.  The blue thumb signified that a person had voted in the national elections. In spite of insurgent violence and political corruption, citizens of those two countries cherish the freedom to vote.  Though they voted by secret ballot, their blue thumbs left no doubt.

They had voted!

Citizens of the United States enjoy the freedom to vote.  None of us will have a blue thumb when we exit the voting booth, but the privilege of casting a ballot is no less precious for us than it was for the Iraqis and Afghans. The right to vote and the right to a trial by jury go hand-in-hand. Both freedoms are secured in the Bill of Rights, a precious gift from our forefathers.

Conscientious citizens regard jury duty as a privilege. Those who inserted the freedom of trial by jury into our Bill of Rights saw the importance of this concept of justice. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”

Anyone who has been arrested on foreign soil can vouch for the precious privilege of a jury trial. The United States is one of the few countries in the world that affords such freedom.

Some years ago, I heard about a conservative preacher from North Carolina who was called for jury duty. He reported to the courthouse as instructed and took his place in the jury pool. His name was called as a potential juror on the very first case. A man had been charged with felony driving under the influence following a bodily injury accident. The defendant faced the possibility of prison time.

The attorney for the defendant questioned the preacher. “Reverend, what do you think about people who drink alcohol?”

“It’s wrong,” the pastor replied emphatically.

“You mean, in your opinion it is wrong,” The attorney pressed.

“No! That’s not what I mean. It doesn’t matter what my opinion is. It doesn’t matter what your opinion is or what the judge’s opinion is. The Lord God Almighty says it is wrong!”

The attorney stepped back. “Reverend, we won’t need you for this case.”

The pastor returned to the jury pool.

After lunch, the preacher’s name was called for another case. Coincidentally, the same attorney was involved, this time representing the plaintiff. He approached the pastor, “Reverend, how do you feel about lawsuits?”

Quick with a proof text, the preacher said, “The Bible says that a true Christian would never sue another Christian. According to God’s word, a lawsuit is the way pagans settle their disputes.”

The attorney turned to the judge and asked for permission to approach the bench. In whispered tones, the judge conferred with both attorneys. Then the judge spoke, “Reverend, you are excused from jury duty. You are not required to return to court. You may step down”

The pastor left the courthouse and later refused to accept the check offered him for serving on jury duty.

John Adams may have had jurors like the pastor from North Carolina in mind when he wrote, “It is not only the juror’s right, but his duty to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the court.”

There are far better ways to avoid jury duty than refusing to exercise the privilege to vote,

I heard the late Judge Bruce Littlejohn, Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, give a speech.  He delighted us with one story after another about his years on the bench.

He recounted an occasion when he was presiding at a session of court in the Midlands. A man who had been called for jury duty asked to be excused from serving.

Judge Littlejohn inquired, “Why do you want to be excused?”

The man responded, “Because my wife is going to conceive a baby today.”

The bailiff approached Judge Littlejohn and whispered to him, “Judge, this fellow is not very well educated.  What he meant to say is that his wife is going to deliver a baby today.”

Judge Littlejohn replied, “Well, in either event, I think the fellow should be with his wife.  Let’s excuse him from jury duty.”

 

Kirk H. Neely
(C) November 2010

 

 

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