Ron Paul on the Importance of America's Jury System
I've been called for jury duty, and have to report to the courthouse in Boston on Friday (May 18). This will be the third time that I've been called - the first two times were in Seattle, where I ended up sitting on one jury that convicted a man of murder. I was left uncomfortably dissatisfied with that experience, and only recently have come to understand why.
Ten years ago in Seattle, jury duty paid $10 per day. No wonder the only people serving were retired people and the unemployed. Many employers (surprise) don't pay wages while an employee is performing his "civic obligation," and in times like these, losing several days' (or weeks') pay is simply not an option for America's working class.
Since I've been called again, I'd like to take this opportunity to remind myself (and anyone else who is reading) of the importance of the jury trial system and what its original intent was, via the words of Dr. Ron Paul. Dr. Paul is currently competing for the Republican nomination for President. If you don't know who he is, please take six minutes of your time to watch this interview with Wolf Blitzer which aired on CNN following the Fox Republican debate. You'll get a get a good flavor of who Dr. Paul is, what he stands for, and why I support him. By today's standards, he is not a politician in any sense of the word, but rather, a statesman: a throwback to the days of honesty, honor, integrity, justice, fairness and respect. If such days never existed, then such qualities certainly exist in individuals, and Ron Paul is one such man. He is, in my opinion, our last best chance to restore the principles upon which our nation was founded.
I have known of Dr. Paul for several years due to his dogged antagonism of the Federal Reserve System and Chairman Greenspan. I first blogged about him back in 2002, and when I heard he was running for President, I immediately set up a website - the DailyPaul.com - to support his bid. I've watched the site traffic grow steadily from an average of 10 visits per day (most of them me, checking to see if anyone had found the site!) to one hundred times that, and it is still growing fast. Dr. Paul's eldest grandson, Matt Pyeatt was one of the first to find the site and now blogs there regularly with news and insights that only a grandson can have.
A few months ago, Dr. Paul sent me an autographed copy of his 1988 book, Freedom Under Siege, and granted me permission to digitize it and put it onto the web. This involved painstakingly scanning each page with optical character recognition (OCR) software, editing the text for typos, reformatting the plain text and saving it out into .pdf documents for the web. You can find the whole book here, organized by chapter.
One of the benefits of the painstaking work I did was that I got to read Dr. Paul's book very carefully as I proofread the text. In doing so, it became clear to me (among other things) why my experience with jury duty was so unsatisfactory. It was so bureaucratic. The jury (like most of the rest of America today) bears little resemblance to what our Founding Fathers had originally envisioned. Since Ron Paul has thought deeply on this subject, I would like to let him explain it. The following is excerpted from Chapter 1 of Freedom Under Siege, pp 23-27 (emphasis added by me).
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Trial by jury - The Ultimate Protection
Ron Paul (1988) Freedom Under Siege, pp 23-27
According to Lysander Spooner, a mid-nineteenth-century writer, there are five separate tribunals protecting us from abusive government laws: The House of Representatives, the Senate, the Executive, the Courts, and the Common-Law Jury. He maintains that all are important but that the ultimate protection of our liberty must be placed in the hands of our peers. His "Essay on the Trial by Jury" (1852) deserves close study by all twentieth-century students concerned about the future of freedom in America.
The concept of protecting individual rights from the heavy hand of government through the common-law jury is as old as the Magna Carta (1215 A.D.). The Founding Fathers were keenly aware of this principle and incorporated it into our Constitution.
John Jay, the first Chief justice of the Supreme Court, agreed with this principle. In his first jury trial in 1794 (Georgia vs. Brailsford) he stated: "You had nevertheless a right to take upon yourselves to judge of both, and to determine the law as well as the fact controversy." Jefferson was in agreement as well: "To consider judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions is a very dangerous doctrine indeed and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy."
The twentieth century, however, has witnessed a serious erosion of this principle. Since 1895 (Sparf vs. United States), the right of the jury to rule on the justice and constitutionality of the law, as well as the facts in the case, was seriously undermined. Also the lack of concern and understanding for individual rights has affected jurors, just as it has representatives, senators, judges, and presidents. Jurors in recent times have been just as guilty of ignoring the principle of equal rights as have our representatives in our legislatures, judiciary, and executive bodies of government. These two factors have greatly diminished the value of the jury in the twentieth century.
Those frustrated with changes in the Congress, the executive, and the judiciary -- and there is certainly good reason for frustration -- must consider educating potential jurors as to the importance of the common law jury and the principles of individual liberty.
An awakened citizenry, participating in juries around the country, could bring about a nonviolent revolution of magnificent proportions, reversing the sad trends of the twentieth century. The jury today is a weak institution, as are all the other institutions designed to guarantee individual liberty. The right effort could revitalize the jury and restore it to its rightful place in curtailing the endless growth of an all-powerful state.
Several legal events needed to occur in order for big government to thrive. The de-emphasis of the jury was crucial in the expansive powers of the omnipresent state. Judging the moral intent and the constitutionality of the law is no longer even a consideration of the jury. Today the judge instructs the jury to consider only the facts of the case, and then the becomes the soul arbiter of evidence admissible in court. The jury today has become progressively weaker over the past ninety years.
In addition, judges write into their rulings grand designs for society. Judiciary bodies have become legislative bodies.
A major part of the judicial system has been removed from the people placing it in administrative branches of government. The agencies of government have usurped power unimagined by the authors of the Constitution. Administrative justice is a great bureaucracy, independent of the legal judiciary.
Regulations are written yearly by the thousands of pages, read by few, and understood by no one. This is done intentionally to keep the peasants humble and to harass the people. It is used as a political tool for selective prosecution. Regulations can favor certain industries while destroying others, providing great accumulation of wealth for the beneficiaries...
Spooner argues eloquently for the right of the jury to pass final judgment on all laws, the moral intent of the law, the constitutionality of the law, the facts of the case, and the moral intent of the accused. Spooner's argument for allowing such responsibility to rest with the accused peers is that delegating responsibility only to the representatives in Washington was fraught with danger. He was convinced that all government officials were untrustworthy and susceptible to bribery and that removal of our representatives in the next election was not sufficient to protect the people from unwise and meddling legislation.
... Spooner begins his essay on trial by jury by clearly stating the importance of the jury's responsibility to judge the law as well as the facts in the case before them:
For more than six-hundred years, that is, since the Magna Carta, in 1215, there has been no clearer principle of English or American constitutional law, than that, in criminal cases. It is not only the right and duty of juries to judge what are the facts, what is the law, and what was the moral intent of the accused; but it is also their right and their primary and paramount duty to judge the justice of the law and to hold all laws invalid, that are in their opinion, unjust or oppressive, and all persons guiltless in violating or resisting the execution of such laws.
Spooner was highly critical of the phrase "according to the evidence" in the oath of jurors, claiming it violated the classical common law. He states:
If the government can dictate the evidence, and require the jury to decide according to that evidence, it necessarily dictates the conclusion to which they must arrive. In that case the trial is really a trial by the government, not by the jury. The jury cannot try an issue unless they determine what evidence shall be admitted. The ancient oath, it will be observed, says nothing about 'according to the evidence.'
If a law is assumed to be correct constitutionally and morally merely because it's a law written by our chosen representative, the government can give itself dictatorial powers. And that's exactly what has happened with the massive powers delegated to the President under the Emergency Powers Act -- power sitting there to be grabbed and used at the hint of a crisis.
Spooner saw the jury as the last guard against such usurpation of the people's rights. Sadly, that protection is just about gone. It is up to us to restore the principle of trial by jury to its rightful place of importance.
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Ron Paul's explanation above illuminates - ten years later - why I was so dissatisfied my previous jury-duty experience. I was simply a cog in a larger machine, a warm body filling the jury box for the sake of appearance. At the time, I knew nothing of the concept of jury nullification, nor of my role as originally intended by the Founders. The judge told us what evidence to consider and how it should be considered - and that is what we the jury did in convicting a man of murder.
But to quote Spooner again, because this point cannot be emphasized enough, "If the government can dictate the evidence, and require the jury to decide according to that evidence, it necessarily dictates the conclusion to which they must arrive." At times during the case, the attorneys would go huddle with the judge to whisper. What were they whispering about? I'll never know. Apparently it was important, but not important enough for the jury to be made aware of.
Tomorrow when I head into jury duty, I will be 10 years older, and thanks my readings of Dr. Paul and others, somewhat wiser. Like many people in this country, I know that something has gone terribly wrong, and I am beginning to understand that the only way to right it is the same way the Founders did - through direct action. No one else is going to save us - certainly not this government.
Tomorrow I will report for my civic obligation with Dr. Paul's word fresh in my mind: "An awakened citizenry, participating in juries around the country, could bring about a nonviolent revolution of magnificent proportions, reversing the sad trends of the twentieth century."
Following the example set by Dr. Ron Paul himself, I will do what I can and hope that others will join me.
For those interested, I will report back on my jury experience in Massachusetts, America's Seat of Liberty, after it ends. If you would like to be notified, please sign up to my low volume - no spam - email list.