There are few things our country asks of us in return for our freedom, namely to vote and to serve on a jury when called. Yet not nearly enough of us fulfill these obligations, particularly when it comes to responding to a jury summons. We can all remember learning in high school civics that jury duty is a privilege, but when the summons arrives in our mailbox we immediately start looking for excuses. I’m too busy. I can’t miss work. My baby is sick. My dog is sick—and the list goes on and on.
I, too, am guilty of this. As I prepare to head downtown and report for my second round of jury duty in two years, I am feeling very unlucky and inconvenienced. Why me? Why now? Can’t I do it later? Haven’t I already done enough?
I feel as though my carefully thought out laundry list of “reasons” as to why I can’t serve at this time is better than most, but in reality I know that I’m just making excuses. And then I ask myself: if I don’t answer the call, who will?
The truth is jury service really IS a privilege—one that we should not take for granted. In fact there was a time in our history, not long ago, when women and minorities were actually prohibited from serving on juries.
Former Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone of the United States Supreme Court called jury service “one of the highest duties of citizenship… for by it, the citizen participates in the administration of justice between man and man, and between government and the individual.”
As Americans, we are all guaranteed the right to a trial by jury by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but that right cannot thrive without an active and engaged citizenry. Despite this, juror participation has decreased significantly across the country in recent years. Much of this is probably due to the fact that we are all “just too busy,” but if we are committed to preserving this right we simply have to find a way to make the time.
The right to a trial by a balanced jury of your peers is the cornerstone of our civil and criminal justice system, but this system depends on citizens showing up for jury duty when they are called.
So next time that jury summons arrives in the mail, despite all the excuses and inconveniences, will you make the time? Will you answer the call?
I know I will.