Saturday, January 26, 2013
A Brief Review of "Why Jury Duty Matters: A Citizen's Guide to Constitutional Action"
Professor Louis Virelli, a resident lurker on this blog, asked that I pass along the following book review.
Hello, everyone. I wanted to pass along an abbreviated version of a book review that is forthcoming in the March 2013 issue of the NACDL magazine, The Champion. I think the book will be intriguing to anyone with an interest in advocacy or constitutional law, especially as either of those relates to jury trials:
Andrew Ferguson’s engaging and impassioned new book Why Jury Duty Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Constitutional Action (http://www.amazon.com/Why-Jury-Duty-Matters-Constitutional/dp/0814729037) poses and answers a series of questions that are crucial to every citizen’s understanding of the role and purpose of jury service in our constitutional democracy. Ferguson, a former public defender in Washington, D.C. and currently an Assistant Professor at the David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia, offers an intelligent and skillfully 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.
On the very surface, Ferguson provides an inspirational primer for jury service. He speaks directly to the hypothetical reader in the juror waiting room, explaining their role in the process and how they should expect their time to be spent, from voir dire through trial and deliberation. Interwoven with his account of how serving on a jury looks and feels is a compelling historical and constitutional case for the profound meaning of jury service both to individual citizens and our constitutional democracy more broadly. Ferguson makes this connection by drawing parallels between several of our most cherished constitutional principles (citizen participation, fairness, equality, civic republicanism, liberalism, deliberative democracy, tolerance and accountability) and the history and modern functionality of the jury. Finally, he makes the scholarly case for treating jury service as a microcosm of constitutional citizenship, in the process offering a sophisticated and compelling call to action for people who write and teach about juries to consider how the historical features of American juries can and should inform the modern judicial system.
The end result is a clear and highly accessible account of our democratic government and the jury’s place within it. Readers whose only experience with constitutional law is having received a jury summons in the mail will feel like they have been educated not only in how to be a better juror, but in how that experience can make them a better American. Lawyers and judges will appreciate the book as a platform from which they can spread the word about the benefits of an institution that is critical to their professional mission, and law professors and commentators will view this book as an opportunity to recast an oft-maligned but fundamental institution of the American judicial system in a new and more fruitful light.