A few weeks ago, I was called to jury duty — again — in Routt County.
Invariably, the timing of the summons is inconvenient, and there’s a tinge of immediate reluctance coupled with the urge to squirm off of the civic responsibility hook. But with short reflection, I recognize the responsibility as part of the small price we pay to live in civil society and I dutifully report for jury duty, committed to provide the best judgment I can.
I’ve been called several times now and have in fact been seated on two separate occasions; both ending in convictions as it turned out. It’s sobering to be put in that position and a difficult thing to hold fellow citizens accountable when the law demands accountability. But I always feel fortunate to be able participate in the process. After all, what fairer way is there to be judged than by a jury of your peers?
Once called, I am invariably enthralled by the procedure. It begins with generic instructions for the assembled potential jurors and then proceeds directly into the poker-faced excuse making phase. That’s where the judge entertains personal tales of woe and circumstantial dilemmas that as told make survival itself questionable; never mind one’s ability to serve on the jury if seated.
What I’ve come to hope for in this phase is someone with the gall to offer an exaggerated excuse along the lines of, “My niece’s neighbor’s best friend’s horse came up lame, and I promised I’d make them some soup this afternoon,” or some such. Generally speaking, this approach does not end well for the distressed potential juror.
Next, a randomly chosen subset of the reporting juror pool is asked to move to the juror’s box. Each individual is asked to offer some introductory background information. The attorneys involved in the case then provide bits of information about the pending issues and query potential jurors about their perceptions of the various circumstances presumably at issue in the upcoming trial.
Then comes the really intriguing part; jurors can be and are dismissed during voir dire until a final jury is agreed upon. Dismissals occur either for cause, because jurists’ answers reveal some unacceptable or insurmountable bias, or with something called a “peremptory challenge.”
Each attorney is allowed to exercise a set number of peremptory challenges and excuse potential jurors they do not regard as beneficial to their client’s position. No reasons for such eliminations are required to be presented. On my last go round, I was peremptorily challenged — and it gave me an idea.
What if members of Congress, both the Senate and House, were subject to a similar voir dire process including peremptory challenges as determined by the voters once every couple of years? Imagine, the Democrats get to choose say three Republican congressman and one Republican senator to send home and the Republicans get to return the favor.
Perhaps then our representatives might think about conducting themselves in a more constructive, less blatantly partisan fashion. As a Republican, my voir dire fantasy ends like this: “Mrs. Pelosi, thank you for your service. And Ms. Wasserman Schulz, watch that door. Mr. Frank, buh-bye. Yes, I know you’re retired, but I’m not taking any chances. And finally Mr. Reid, it’s time for your nap.”
Once a representative was dismissed in this manner, their influence in Washington would end. No consulting, lobbying, campaigning, contributing, fundraising or speechifying. No further politicking of any kind would be allowed.
Such a change could bring relief and a heightened sense of control to all the politically beleaguered citizens of this country. Imagine that.