Saturday, June 06, 2009

Jury Duty, Wasps, and Allegations of a Supreme Court Nominee's Racism

Jury duty is finally over, thank God. It was emotionally draining and I continue to think about the ramifications of the verdicts upon which I voted. We were asked to make decisions after being presented with a very limited amount of information. We could ask no questions, and we couldn't even take notes. Moreover, I don't have much confidence in the idea that people are tried by a jury of their peers. I vividly remember being in the jury pool room and suddenly the entire room broke into applause. Turns out some guy had spun some wheel on the game show Price is Right and he won $1,000 or something. I wouldn't want game show fans to decide my fate. Also, the worlds that I heard about while serving on juries, a world where children have access to drugs and guns on a daily basis, where friends and family are lost to gun violence, I don't consider myself a peer to people from that world. I can empathize but I have no idea about the hard realities of that life. The experience reminded me of Aristophane's famous comedy Wasps, where the elder Philocleon gains pleasure from bringing guilty verdicts on the younger generation. However, I gained no pleasure.

My bad experiences on jury duty also make me think of the controversy surrounding Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. She said in a previous speech "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." Some have called her a racist for this statement. But I agree with her. Her experiences would make her better suited than me to judge others from that background. I by no means am advocating separate courts for separate classes, but I would argue that there needs to be diversity on all levels of the judicial system.


MAD said...

You are supposed to judge based on the evidence presented in the case, not on empathy or "experiences". Sotomayor was wrong in those comments.

dsb said...

MAD--our experiences, regardless of how we get them, inform how we interpret the world.

Generally speaking, someone from a minority simply has to understand the white majority world to succeed in it. There's no such incentive for someone from the majority to understand minority experience. I think that's what Sotomayor was getting at.

MAD said...

dsb: That may be what Sotomayor was trying to say, but so what? My failure to "understand" drug-dealing and other felonious behavior, for example, does not render me less competent than another to perform evidentiary assessment and render a sound judgment of culpability or not. And such an "understanding" should not form part of the deliberative process, under any circumstances.
It was an ill-conceived comment, any way you slice it.

Pudge450 said...

Your belief just conveniently side-steps the "justice is blind" thing.

Michael Homan said...

Maybe I wish justice wasn't so blind. Anyway, I'm glad I'm off jury duty.