U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison of the Southern District of Texas gave the following introductory remarks to a jury panel in his court last month about the importance of jury service, and when I read them this morning they just blew me away. The judges I have appeared before in the Eastern District routinely talk about the importance of jury service, but this was incredible. I highly recommend reading it, but I'll warn you in advance that by the end you're going to want to go jump the rail across the street and demand to be put on a jury.
THE COURT: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning,
2 and welcome. In asking you to join us this morning, we are
3 fully sensitive to the disruption we represent in your
4 lives. I know we've interfered with work schedules, school
5 schedules, leisure time activities. I know the traffic is
6 bad, and the parking is worse. I know that we've made it
7 more difficult to honor obligations that at school in your
8 children's sports and ballet lessons and choir practice,
9 the family meal times and car pools. The list goes on. We
10 know we represent a significant intrusion on what you would
11 like to be doing. We ask you to be here this morning,
12 however, because we have important work for you to do. And
13 it will not get done without a jury. Despite all the
14 inconveniences to which we've put you, I think your
15 attitude toward jury service will depend on your initial
16 frame of mind.
l17 I think you very well could look at jury
18 servlce as a form of tax, like the income tax we pay the
19 federal government or the property tax we pay the county or
20 school district in which we reside. This is a tax on the
21 privilege of being an American paid not -- at least not
22 directly, with dollars and cents, but with time and effort.
23 If that's the way you want to look at this,
24 there's not a whole lot I can do about it, but I would
25 suggest you need to lift your eyes off of that vista and
1take a different look, a new perspective, because we're
2 doing so much more than simply discharging a duty. We are
3 performing, all of us, the most sacred duty asked of
4 Americans in peacetime society. You can resolve an issue
5 between two litigants that has been ongoing for years, that
6 has occupied an enormous amount of time of the clients, of
7 the lawyers, and of this Court. You will see in the course
8 of this proceeding a cumulative total of perhaps
9 two centuries of legal experience. This is my 40th year
10 involved in the study, the practice of the administration
11 of law, and I know other attorneys whom you will hear from
12 have similar experience. But at the end of the day, this
13 case is going to be decided not by me and not by the
14 lawyers, but by you.
15 In addition to the solemnity of the due that
16 lS imposed, we join a lengthy generational continuum as we
17 are met today. At least metaphorically, your parents and
18 your grandparents set where you now sit, and if we do our
19 job right, someday our grandchildren and our
20 grandchildren's grandchildren will sit where you are.
21 My parents lived long enough to see me made
22 a judge. They had no legal background at all and knew
23 little about the legal system, but they always were very
24 interested in the juries that I had. Were they interested
25 in the case? What different occupations did they
1 represent? Was there a good balance between the two
2 genders? Was there an age range? Did the jury consist of
3 both native born and foreign born? They were always so
4 eager to see how the jury functioned, because they in their
5 turn had served as jurors many times.
6 When I'm tired or when I'm burdened with
7 other work, I frequently think, if my parents were still
8 here, would I really like to report to them that we had a
9 jury trial and I had done less than my best. And that
10 thought helped sustain me, and I think you need to think
11 that you are heirs to a tradition that involves your
12 forebears, involves many other good and decent people. And
13 in not doing your best, you let those people down. All of
14 who have sat where you sit, all who have been asked to make
15 the decision you will be asked to make.
16 This generational continuum that includes
17 our parents and grandparents stretches back at least
18 11 generations. It stretches back all the way to the
19 founders. When the 56 men met in that sticky sumner in
20 Philadelphia in 1776, they knew how important the right of
21jury trial was. And one of their chief grievances with
22 King George was he had deprived them of the right to jury
24 The demand for jury trial rights was frontal
25 in the list of grievances that those 56 men ascribed to
1 George, III. And to remedy that defect in others, they
2 pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred
4 A generation later, 39 men signed -- excuse
5 me - a decade later, 39 men signed the Constitution. They
6 were in no doubt whatsoever about the importance of jury
7 trials. It is the only constitutional right, the only one
8 mentioned both in the body of the Constitution and the Bill
9 of Rights.
10 John Adams spoke of jury trials as the heart
11 and lungs of liberty. More recently, Justice Antonin
12 Scalia, who sits on the Supreme Court, said, "When judges
13 interpret the right to jury trial, they touch the spinal
14 cord of American democracy."
15 Think of jury trials as an inconvenience, if
16 you must, but please understand it is so much more than
17 that. It is your chance to convene with those that have
18 come before us. It is our chance, if not to pay the
19 debt we owe to our country, at least to acknowledge it. It
20 is our chance to remember that the burden we are asked to
21 carry, no matter how heavy, is not so great as the goal we
22 seek, that of an ideal justice, absolute and complete. But
23 if you must, if you must, feel terribly sorry for
24 yourselves, agree that every intrusion on your daily lives,
25 let's talk about the sacrifice other people have made.
1 There's a blog that I check regularly called
2 Fallen Soldiers. It list now more than 6,000 names of
3 those who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq, among our
4 service members, since 2003.
5 Let's pause to remember just a few of them.
6 Navy Gunners Mate 2nd class, Dion R.
7 ____, age 25, North Chicago, Illinois.
8 Army Private 1st Class John Townsend, age
9 19, Claremore, Oklahoma.
10 Army Specialist 1st Class Kyle Rookey, age
11 23, Oswego, New York.
12 Army Chief Warrant Officer Thalia Ramirez,
13 age 28, San Antonio, Texas.
14 Now, what do they these young men and that
15 young woman what did they have to do with us? Quite a lot
16 actually. They didn't get to debate whether our country
17 was going to invade Afghanistan or Iraq. They went where
18 their country asked them to go, when their country asked
19 them to go there. And that's what's being asked of you.
20 You didn't get a chance to debate what kind of trial you
21 would hear, or what judge you would here in front of, or
22 what the lawyers would be like. You went where your
23 country asked you to go when your country asked you to go
25 Beyond that, when we think of what it is to
1 be an American, surely among the most prominent features
2 are how we conduct our foreign policy, including our wars,
3 and how we resolve disputes between citizens, including
4 this one.
5 Before we think we're being asked to
6 sacrifice too much, let's think of the sacrifices others
7 have made, and let's look at this as an opportunity to
8 express some of the reasons these people felt our country
9 was worth dying for.
10 Thank you-all very much.