Recent months have witnessed a steady stream of stories about state legislatures attempting to attack or outright overturn the will of state voters—from discriminatory voter ID laws to the naked power grabs we’ve seen from legislators in Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, and elsewhere. While attacks on the right to vote rightfully elicit outrage and media coverage, far less attention is paid to an equally pernicious threat against democracy: bias infecting our juries and their verdicts. This term, the Supreme Court is faced with a series of cases where a criminal defendant has alleged that his right to a fair and impartial jury was seriously compromised—a violation that should concern all Americans.
It’s worth emphasizing: The jury-trial right is critically important to our democratic structure because it’s the people’s way of exercising control over our third branch of government, the judiciary. As the Supreme Court has said, the impartial jury is a critical guard against the “arbitrary exercise of power” and “ensures the continued acceptance of the laws by all of the people.”
In recognition of how important the jury-trial right is to our democracy, close to 200 years ago, the Supreme Court said that it would guard against “every encroachment upon it … with great jealousy.” Unfortunately, the court has not always made good on that promise.
Read the full op-ed here.