Why Jury Duty Matters

A Citizen’s Guide to Constitutional Action

224 pages

10 halftones illustrations

December, 2012

ISBN: 9780814729038

$18

Paper

Also available in

Author

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson is Professor of Law at the David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia. He is co-author of Youth Justice in America.

All books by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson

It’s easy to forget how important the jury really is to America. The right to be a juror is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to all eligible citizens. The right to trial by jury helped spark the American Revolution, was quickly adopted at the Constitutional Convention, and is the only right that appears in both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But for most of us, a jury summons is an unwelcome inconvenience. Who has time for jury duty? We have things to do.
 
In Why Jury Duty Matters, Andrew Guthrie Ferguson reminds us that whether we like it or not, we are all constitutional actors. Jury duty provides an opportunity to reflect on that constitutional responsibility. Combining American history, constitutional law, and personal experience, the book engages citizens in the deeper meaning of jury service. Interweaving constitutional principles into the actual jury experience, this book is a handbook for those Americans who want to enrich the jury experience. It seeks to reconnect ordinary citizens to the constitutional character of a nation by focusing on the important, and largely ignored, democratic lessons of the jury.
 
Jury duty is a shared American tradition. It connects people across class and race, creates habits of focus and purpose, and teaches values of participation, equality, and deliberation. We know that juries are important for courts, but we don’t know that jury service is important for democracy. This book inspires us to re-examine the jury experience and act on the constitutional principles that guide our country before, during, and after jury service.

Reviews

  • "This book will help us all move beyond feeling jury service is solely a duty. These well-written pages clearly demonstrate jury service is a privilege and that a jury summons is an admission ticket to very special higher learning. The book should inspire important citizen reflections both at the courthouse and at our kitchen tables."

    —Judge Gregory E. Mize, Judicial Fellow, National Center for State Courts

  • "Every year thousands of American citizens are summoned for the important civic duty of serving on a jury. What is their role, why is it a duty, and why is it so important? This unique and highly readable book is addressed to a lay audience. It will be useful for those citizens who have served on juries, for those who will someday be called to serve, and, indeed, for anyone who has an inquisitive mind about a crucial part of our legal system. Author Andrew Guthrie Ferguson  lucidly  describes the history of the jury and explains why juries play such a critical role in the contemporary American  system of justice. Copies should be placed in the jury assembly rooms of every courthouse. The book can also be a useful supplement for high school civics courses."

    —Neil Vidmar, Russell M. Robinson II Professor of Law, Duke University School of Law

  • "Andrew Ferguson has written an inspiring book–addressed to every American–to explain why serving as a juror is vital to our democracy. He masterfully weaves the jury process with constitutional principles showing how the jury puts these principles into everyday practice. Ferguson’s book will transform readers from reluctant citizens into responsible jurors. Every court should give prospective jurors a copy of this book so that they will understand the jury’s integral role in our democracy."

    —Nancy S. Marder, Professor of Law and Director of the Jury Center, Chicago-Kent College of Law

  • "An investigation and celebration of what we so often rue: jury duty.

    Former public defender Ferguson (Law/Univ. of the District of Columbia) takes jury duty seriously but not in an admonitory, finger-wagging sense. He wants readers to appreciate the brilliance of the jury process as civic engagement, an act of public virtue, due process and accountability. Ferguson witnesses the process daily, and he serves it forth here to readers with enthusiasm: “I watch as constitutional ideals such as civic participation, deliberation, fairness, equality, liberty, accountability, freedom of conscience, and the common good come alive through the practice of ordinary citizens.” In each chapter, the author takes a constitutionally grounded principal and shows how it applies to jury duty. Jury participation teaches the skills required for democratic self-governance, it acquaints jurors with the rule of law and it promotes the equality of ideas. Ferguson is an artful booster for community involvement and social connection and an advocate for the ability to challenge any perceived infringement of rights; a copy of the Constitution is always ready at his hand. This is a book that makes you feel good about a system that requires this type of participation, in which we must reflect with clarity on the guilt or innocence of an individual.

    A genuine encouragement that speaks to the role juries play in our constitutional structure."

    Kirkus Reviews

  • "Ferguson, a veteran lawyer and law professor, outlines the importance of the jury in the legal system, how the right to trial by jury helped push the American Revolution forward, and how civil rights advances that created a more balanced jury pool have resulted in fairer trials for all...the dedicated and wonk-minded will learn a great deal about our legal system."

    Publishers Weekly

  • "Former public defender Ferguson (law, Univ. of the District of Columbia; coauthor, Youth Justice in America) offers an inspiring perspective on jury duty. Using a combination of personal narrative, political science, and American history, he moves beyond the simple argument that jury duty is a civic responsibility and something to be endured for the good of the justice system. Instead, Ferguson situates jury duty as an opportunity for citizens to exercise foundational American values such as fairness, equality, participation, deliberation, and liberty. Jury duty brings together people from different races and different classes on equal footing. He explains that through service on a jury, a person can practice skills that are valuable for citizenship.
     
    VERDICT: Ferguson presents a new kind of handbook for potential jurors. Accessible and easy to read, the book is written for the average citizen who might be called to serve on a jury.—Rachel Bridgewater, Portland Community Coll. Lib., OR."

    Library Journal

  • "[A]n insightful and beautifully written account of jury service that speaks to the prospective juror in all of us, while at the same time offering lessons in the history and constitutional significance of the jury that will be enlightening for lawyers and lay readers alike...Ferguson provides an inspiration primer for jury service. Beyond his deep insight into every aspect of juror's service, [his] overriding optimism and palpable reverence for the jury as an institution are powerful enough to make even the most skeptical reader view their next jury summons in an entirely new light."

    The Champion

  • "In any event, kudos to Andrew for his important work and great example in making legal scholarship more relevant."

    Prawf's Blawg

  • "Summoned for jury duty?  This is the book for you!

    —Greta Van Susteren, Fox News

  • "Professor Andrew Guthrie Ferguson's Why Jury Duty Matters: A Citizen's Guide to Constitutional Action should be read by every adult in this nation and by every youth before reaching 18 years of age, not only for its historical content, but for its message that jury service by every eligible person is critical to protecting the life and liberty of every person living in the United States and protects the individual from the tyranny of government." 

    —Judge Arthur L. Burnett Sr., Criminal Justice

  • "what might be the most earnest book that's come across my desk in years"

    —Dan Rodricks

  • "This is a brilliant and motivating plea to please serve when summoned."

    —Ralph Nader

  • "As attorneys we learned the constitutional basis for jury trails in law school.  Those of us who work in litigation know and understand the importance of juries to our court system, but probably few of us have considered the importance of jury duty to us as citizens.  Now a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, Ferguson wrote Why Jury Duty Matters, for those called to serve as jurors.  It is an explanation of the importance of jury duty to us as citizens, how it enables us to participate in democratic government." 

    The Daily Journal

  • "Ferguson seeks to capture the attention of a broader audience, and does so through a personal and scholarly approach that is adequate to understanding the judicial, and more broadly, constitutional system of self-governance. Summing Up: Recommended."

    —J. Michael Bitzer, CHOICE

  • "Andrew Guthrie Ferguson reminds us that whether we like it or not, we are all constitutional actors. Jury duty provides an opportunity to reflect on that constitutional responsibility."

    LA Daily Journal

  • "Serving on a jury is at the heart of what it means to be American....And juries are the embodiment of democracy--12 citizens each have a vote, with the results deciding a citizen's fate."

    —Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, Bottom Line-Personal

  • "Where would we find a large and regularly available group of citizens with time to discuss the importance of citizenship with aspiring citizens?  Perhaps, we need look no further than jury waiting rooms all across the country.  In those rooms, millions of Americans wait for the opportunity to serve on a jury."

    —Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, American Constitution Society

  • [I]f citizenship matters for jury duty eligibility we need to ask ourselves why it matters.  It's not an easy question to resolve, but like jury service, it is a job that only 'we the people' can do."

    —Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, The Atlantic