In October 2013, California Governor, Jerry Brown, vetoed a bill that would have allowed noncitizens to serve on juries. The bill would have allowed certain noncitizens to serve as jurors and passed the legislature along with laws allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and practice law. This would not have permitted just any foreign national—undocumented or otherwise—to serve on a jury, but would only have incorporated legal permanent residents (LPR’s) into the jury pool. A legal permanent resident is granted many of the same privileges as a U.S. citizen: access to particular government benefits, ability to immigrate certain relatives, duty to pay taxes, and the right to vote in local and state elections in a few jurisdictions.
I find it interesting that this law was ever passed by the legislature. What constituents were they representing with this vote? It is hard to believe that there are large numbers of noncitizens voting in elections, as most of them may not even be aware of that ability. Were the legislators trying to win over citizens who dislike jury duty? The situation almost reminded me of times when a rich white male could “pay” for someone else to serve in the armed forces in his place. The governor made the right move to stop the bill in its tracks, but it is still odd that a noncitizen can call himself a lawyer and represent his peers in a court of law, but not decide the fate of those same peers in that same court.
The purpose for allowing noncitizens to serve cannot be to increase the number of eligible jurors as I am not aware of any jurisdiction that is so short-handed that it has trouble fielding juries on a daily basis (however see http://www.ketknbc.com/news/low-texas-jury-duty-participation-widespread-probl), not to mention the fact that jury trials have been on the decline for decades. Noncitizens should also not be allowed to serve because there is no requirement to pass any kind of English proficiency or U.S. history or civics test to become a permanent resident (or to cross the border illegally). A noncitizen juror could have a language barrier, have little to no understanding of American law, nor have the experience of being subjected to those laws for an extended period of time. How can someone who has spent all but a few of his 30-some years in a dictatorship or monarchy comprehend our state constitutions? This defeats the argument that noncitizens should serve because they are part of the diverse melting pot that makes up America and therefore plaintiffs and defendants are entitled to have them participate.
A point in support of noncitizen jurors is the domino analogy that by allowing noncitizens to participate in this civic duty it will encourage them to become full-fledged citizens, which in turn means they will be more willing to invest in their community both financially and civically. While this is an admirable goal, there are other things Congress could do to encourage LPR’s to take the plunge towards citizenship that do not involve opening up our justice system to them. Because the way of obtaining legal permanent residence—sponsorship by an employer or qualifying relative—does not put a foreign national through the same examination processes as one who desires and has the patience to become a citizen, we may be adding a large group of people to the jury pool who will not have the same kind of respect for the duty of being a juror and it could create a more hostile environment in the deliberation room. Furthermore, if the majority of jurisdictions do not believe noncitizens should have the right to vote, and the federal government definitely does not, jury service would be an odd sort of outlier opportunity for foreign nationals.
Even though many U.S. citizens do not treat it as such, serving as a juror is a privilege and should be treated as such. A noncitizen, even a legal permanent resident, has not had to show that he is deserving of that right and should not be included in the jury pool. LPR’s who put forth the time and effort to become U.S. citizens, and pledge allegiance to the U.S. government by oath, should enjoy the benefit of being able to decide the outcomes for their new peers and may value the right much more highly than a citizen by birth who views being a juror as a burden rather than a privilege.