What's a Jury Good for?
Voir Dire, Vol. 11, No. 2, p. 6, Summer 2005
15 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2007
Recent years have seen repeated attacks on the institution of the jury, particularly civil juries. Some claim that too many suiters seeking sympathetic juries clog courthouses; civil juries find liability too readily; their awards are too generous; they are inefficient. This short essay does not directly address those claims, but instead considers the role the civil jury serves in American constitutional democracy.
Drawn from a larger study, the Essay summarizes three distinct functions the civil jury performs: (1) it incorporates a deliberative democratic body within the third branch of government; (2) it checks and balances the exercise of governmental and corporate power, and inserts community norms into the judicial process; and (3) it legitimates both the process and the outcome of legal judgments. The essay does not assess how well the civil jury in fact serves these functions, but suggests that proposals to abolish or limit the role of juries should take them into account.
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