A Dallas County judge visited our class last week and spoke of the time when Former First Lady Laura Bush and a pro golfer (on different days) appeared at the civil courthouse for jury duty. I remembered the news that Mr. T was called for jury duty last month in Cook County, and it got me wondering if anyone should be exempt from jury duty just because of their name or job. My first thought is no, definitely not, because the powerful people in our country should not expect a hard-working American to take his or her spot on the panel and give up one day or up to several weeks depending on the case if they won’t serve themselves.
Both President Obama, in 2010, and Vice President Joe Biden, in 2011, were called for jury duty. The President’s administration informed Cook County that he was not able to serve then. Biden reportedly showed up, mixed with other prospective jurors for half a day, and then was let go without serving on a jury. Other sitting Presidents and public officials, according to that 2011 article, have been called and deferred their jury duty.
In response to President Obama declining his jury duty, Mary Kate Cary wrote “[t]he president had an opportunity to signal that jury duty is important and a duty of citizenship, rather than just simply saying he ‘would not be able to serve.’” I share a similar view and feel that the proper process for seeking an exemption should be followed—even by a president.
In Dallas County, a juror receives a summons and it states clearly that you don’t have to serve if you claim one of the following exemptions: under 18 years of age, not a Dallas County resident, not a U.S. citizen, not of sound mind, cannot read or write, served on a jury recently, been convicted of a theft or felony, or under indictment. These exemptions seem pretty standard. If a prospective juror meets one of these exemptions, the juror responds listing the exemption and the honor system (not the full force of the justice system) controls.
In Prince William County, Virginia, the President, Vice President, a great number of public officials, and licensed practicing attorneys are exempt, according to the county’s website. These exemptions are too much and unnecessary. It’s very likely that a famous or powerful person will be struck from the panel, but being struck from the panel after appearing does not set politicians apart from the rest of the jury pool like a statutory exemption does. This takes away control from the parties in the case. Also, if the argument is that a president—a generally very smart and logical individual—would not be able to put aside his biases to evaluate and decide a case as a neutral fact finder, then there is no hope that the rest of us can.
Texas’s stance on exemptions for politicians is that an officer or employee of the state legislature or of a legislative department is exempt from jury service, according to the Texas Government Code. Exempting this group still seems like taking a lot of people who would be decent jurors out of the jury pool simply for convenience.
States have the freedom to write their own laws, but giving an exemption to the President or another public official should not be based on time and job duty concerns alone. In Dallas and many jurisdictions, there is a proper process to postpone until the timing of the jury service is more convenient.
1: "Power” (abriged and clean version, 2010) by Kanye West