This morning, for the first time in more than a decade, I had to appear for Superior Court jury duty. The last time I was summoned I got to call a juror hotline the day before to see if I was needed, and I wasn’t. This time, there was no call in option–I had to show up.
A lot has changed since I last had to appear in person. The jury assembly room has been modernized with big-screen TVs, free WiFi with decent bandwidth, and free access to e-books and magazines courtesy of the county library. There are tables and workstations and quiet rooms to allow people to function while waiting to be assigned to a courtroom. There’s even a cafe next door that serves reasonably good coffee.
The last time I was summoned I was working full time and jury duty felt like a major inconvenience. I was distracted by everything happening back at the office. I worried about the work I was not getting done. And I knew that even if I managed to get selected for a jury, I would most likely be excused because my job required me to interact regularly with police officers and as a result, I respect their work. Plus, my education and analytical thinking skills tended to make defense attorneys nervous about having me in the jury box. I have never served on a municipal or superior court jury, and it would have been easy to see today’s service as yet another waste of time.
But all that changed when I learned what our President did yesterday. Over the last week (and even before the end of his impeachment trial, really), Number 45 has made it abundantly clear he does not respect the rule of law and the institutions of justice created to uphold it. Yesterday he trashed the 5th Amendment to the Bill of Rights when he threw out pardons like cheap Mardi Gras beads to a bunch of felons, all of whom had been convicted by juries of their peers. Our President does not understand (or care) that juries comprised of ordinary citizens like you and me are what keep our justice system fair and impartial. As Superior Court Judge James Crandall stated so eloquently in his welcome this morning, “Jury duty is a constitutional celebration.”
But with yesterday’s actions, our President basically said my jury service today doesn’t matter. Because he can use (abuse) his power to pardon anyone he wants to, any time he wants to. He can do this even if their illegal behavior ruined lives, endangered our country, corrupted our democracy or worse. Yesterday he thumbed his nose at the scales of justice, because he doesn’t believe they should apply to him or anyone he likes (which apparently only requires a big enough donation to his re-election campaign). I don’t know about you, but that really pissed me off.
So I arrived at the courthouse this morning eager to serve. I was ready to willingly change my plans and appointments if I was lucky enough to get in the jury box for a trial. Because being an impartial, thoughtful juror was one way I could help prop up those scales of justice. Because we need those scales of justice to be working properly if we are the ones ever a accused of a crime. Because if I were a defendant, I want someone like me deciding my fate. And because fulfilling my civic duty as a juror was one simple way I could say “F-you!” to the President and his abusive power.
Late this afternoon I was excused from service. The court cases that might have required jurors simply weren’t ready for us. I was a little disappointed, even though I got to go home.
Many people around the world live where there is no fair, impartial justice system in place. We ought not take ours for granted, no matter what our idiot President does with his power. Because in our corner of the world, justice and truth still matter. And it’s up to normal, ordinary citizens like us to keep it that way.
So the next time you get called for jury duty, don’t think of it as an inconvenience. Think of it as a way to contribute to the “constitutional celebration” our country desperately needs right now.