The jury…is highly beneficial to those who decide…litigation; and I look upon it as one of the most efficacious means for the education of the people which society can employ.
–Alexis de Tocqueville (1835)
When we think about educating citizens, too often we think of scholastic activities. In politics as in many other domains, real life experiences can provide the most powerful learning experiences. The Jury and Democracy Project aims to understand the special educational impact that jury service has on citizens. Too often, people think of the jury as nothing more than a means of reaching verdicts. In fact, serving on a jury can change how citizens think of themselves and their society. This, in turn, can change how they behave in public life. Our purpose is to study when, how, and to what extent those changes take place when people are called to serve on juries.
We believe it is vital to study the jury’s civic impact are the state of the jury in the United States and abroad. Within the U.S., critics of the civil jury, in particular, have called for its restriction and limited use. Meanwhile, various legal reforms have reduced the reliance on criminal jurors. Never in the course of these debates and reforms have policymakers considered carefully the indirect civic cost of reduced jury service opportunities.
Outside the U.S., many other countries, from Japan to Mexico, are experimenting with implementing widespread citizen participation on juries. In the case of Japan, one of the explicit goals is to make Japanese citizens more active in civic life, even beyond the jury. These countries will benefit from a thorough analysis of the civic impact of jury service here in the U.S.
Our principal data in this project consist of a national archival study of how jury service influences voting frequency and a three-wave panel survey of jurors in King County, which records more details about the jury experiences and traces changes in a variety of civic behaviors and attitudes over the period of a year. We are always looking for collaborators to use the data we have collected in creative ways. Anyone hoping to learn more about the project can visit its website at www.jurydemocracy.org.
Additional Resources on Juries
If this project has piqued your interest in juries, a more comprehensive history and description is provided by The American Jury, a project of the National Endowment for the Humanities. An in-depth catalog of research on the jury system has been compiled by the National Center for State Courts at their Center for Jury Studies.