Monday, June 15, 2015

Jury Duty ?

(With thanks to Mark David Ledbetter for the jury history and quotes.)

Yes, YOU
Perhaps, on this precise 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta1 (15 June 1215), it is time again to resurrect “We the People.”

Time to remember how fundamental the Magna Carta was to the Founding Fathers of America.

Time to rescue the neglected, vertical2 “checks and balances” that those Fathers enshrined because they feared the horizontal “checks and balances” would prove insufficient;
American school children are educated that the Constitution provides checks and balances among the three branches of the federal government. A diagram of the system typically shows three circles representing the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary branches connected by three lines. But that diagram is overly simplistic and the education incomplete. Checks and balances were intended to be an intricate web with (in the words of constitutional historian William J. Watkins Jr.) both vertical and horizontal components. The three connected circles represent only the horizontal. The national and state governments were to provide vertical checks on each other. And the individual was to provide vertical checks on both levels through suffrage (the right to vote) and jury nullification.3
Time to reconsider the warning of Thomas Jefferson:4
I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.

[And] if the question relate to any point of public liberty, or if it be one of those in which the judges may be suspected of bias, the jury undertake to decide both law and fact.
Time to reclaim the power—the clout—of JURY NULLIFICATION5 that has been suppressed, denied, and abandoned for far too long.
Jury Nullification is a principle often suppressed and denied by the legal profession but one with a long and splendid history. It says that We The People have the power to judge not only questions of guilt and innocence but the law itself. We The People, sitting as a jury, are competent to nullify laws we consider unjust or unconstitutional.6

[T]he long history of Jury Nullification is mirrored by the long history of judges denying or hiding the right and power of juries to nullify.7

Intense pressure by corporations and their high-powered lawyerly clients moved the Supreme Court to declare in 1895 that judges and courts no longer had to inform juries of their rights of nullification. So naturally they did not and Jury Nullification slipped quietly into the mists of forgotten history. / In the 20th century, it became more and more the norm for judges to incorrectly instruct juries that they must consider only the facts of the case and whether the defendant was guilty of breaking a law – not judge the law itself.8
Perhaps in this age of overreach and omnibus, it is time to curtail our sodas and circuses9 and prep for extended and critical-care Jury Duty! Uncle Sam needs US!

* Uncle Sam illustration from (Public Domain).
1. From
“Magna Carta (Latin for "the Great Charter"), also called Magna Carta Libertatum (Latin for "the Great Charter of the Liberties"), is a charter agreed by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, on 15 June 1215. First drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel barons, it promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown, to be implemented through a council of 25 barons. Neither side stood behind their commitments, and the charter was annulled by Pope Innocent III, leading to the First Barons' War. [It was subsequently amended and reissued in 1217, 1225, and 1297, being confirmed as part of England's statute law.] …

At the end of the 16th century there was an upsurge in interest in Magna Carta. Lawyers and historians at the time believed that there was an ancient English constitution, going back to the days of the Anglo-Saxons, that protected individual English freedoms. They argued that the Norman invasion of 1066 had overthrown these rights, and that Magna Carta had been a popular attempt to restore them, making the charter an essential foundation for the contemporary powers of Parliament and legal principles such as habeas corpus.…

The political myth of Magna Carta and its protection of ancient personal liberties persisted after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 until well into the 19th century. It influenced the early American colonists in the Thirteen Colonies and the formation of the American Constitution in 1789, which became the supreme law of the land in the new republic of the United States. Research by Victorian historians showed that the original 1215 charter had concerned the medieval relationship between the monarch and the barons, rather than the rights of ordinary people, but the charter remained a powerful, iconic document, even after almost all of its content was repealed from the statute books in the 19th and 20th centuries. Magna Carta still forms an important symbol of liberty today, often cited by politicians and campaigners, and is held in great respect by the British and American legal communities, Lord Denning describing it as "the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot." (Bold emphasis added.)
2. [The Founders] “wrote a constitution that provided not only an intricate system of vertical and horizontal checks and balances but a gauntlet of tests that laws must pass. Laws are subject to veto by the House of Representatives, by the Senate, by the Executive, by courts, and by juries. All but the jury power is dominated by the modern intellectual establishment so naturally only the jury power is denied by that establishment.” [Mark David Ledbetter’s America's Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Edition: 2010-04-12; Kindle Locations: 5015-5018)].
“But, just as horizontal checks and balances have been weakened by the strengthening of executive power, so have vertical checks and balances.” [Ledbetter, (Kindle Locations: 3446-3447)].
3. Ledbetter, (Kindle Locations: 3420-3425).
4. Thomas Jefferson as quoted in Ledbetter, (Kindle Locations: 5021-5027);(bold emphasis added here).
5. See history of Jury Nullification at Ledbetter, Kindle Locations: 4996-5397); and
“The common understanding and common language of the Enlightenment political philosophers who established the American system was this: juries were to judge both law and fact. / We will see in subsequent volumes how Jury Nullification, so important in establishing freedom in both England and America, would continue to protect rights even when the law did not.” [Ledbetter, (Kindle Locations: 5035-5040)].
6. Ledbetter, (Kindle Locations: 4992-4994).
7. Ledbetter, (Kindle Locations: 5004-5005).
8. Ledbetter, (Kindle Locations: 5042-5047).

Creative Commons License
Déjà Vu ~ Times blog by SMSmith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.