Thoughts on Jury Nullification

Since our class discussion on jury nullification I have had numerous conversations with my peers on the topic. Before reading Paul Butler I knew very little about the practice and have since looked into it further. The majority of the people I have explained the process to tend to like the concept of it. They have said that it “gives a voice to the average citizen” and “gives someone the ability to make a difference.” Despite their opinion’s I tend to disagree with the process and think that it is very undemocratic.

My first problem with it is that I feel it blatantly disregards our government and how it works. We popularly elect congressmen and women as well as senators to create legislation for our country. We are democratic in the sense that everyone that is a citizen has the opportunity to vote for their representative. Because of this we trust these individuals to produce legislation that is fair and just as they represent us. For an average citizen to have the ability to disregard the legislation passed by these individuals is ludicrous to me. A juror’s job is to interpret the law and based on the facts provided by the case come to a verdict. When this process is ignored and a juror disregards the law because they don’t agree with it that isn’t democracy, it’s anarchy.

To me if their is a law that is unjust it should be congress’s job to fix it. The courts job is to interpret what their given, not rewrite it. I think the perfect example of this is the Lilly Ledbetter case. Ledbetter was an employer at a Goodyear in Gadsen, Alabama where she was discriminated against because she was female. She was given documents that showed she was getting paid less than her male co-workers so she sued and the case went all the way up to the supreme court. They ruled that employers cannot be sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 over race or gender pay discrimination if the claims are based on decisions made by the employer 180 days ago or more.

Now before I go any further I wanna clarify that I think this is bullsh*it. Ledbetter in my opinion, should have been compensated the raises she was unfairly denied. But the supreme court did their job and interpreted the law how it was written. At this point it was up to the executive and legislative branches of government to solve this injustice. President Obama later signed a bill called the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 that amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

To me this is the most democratic  way to fight injustice in America. I think the court should be used to bring attention to an injustice in society but I don’t believe the burden of changing it should be on the court since their job is simply to interpret each situation. Basically I believe that if congress simply did their job we wouldn’t have as much burden on the court.

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3 Responses to Thoughts on Jury Nullification

  1. morgandick says:

    Thanks for the super passionate post! I too am a little conflicted with the idea of jury nullification. To be totally honest, I have never even heard the term before the Butler reading and after our class discussion I came to the conclusion that a juror nullifies once in a blue moon. This makes me think that it is not that big of a problem in the judicial system, but still becomes a critical issue for a case when it does happen. I feel like the motto of this class could be “Congress: do you job”. It seems that a good chunk of issues facing the judicial system could be rectified or made more manageable with a simple act of Congress. However, I think we can all agree that in today’s political climate there is no such thing as a “simple act of Congress”. Please correct me if I am wrong but it seems like you are saying that when a juror nullifies it is essentially a cop out. If so – I totally agree. I think that there are much more effective ways to pursue political or social goals that waiting to be selected for a jury. Now I realize that the portion of the population even aware of jury nullification is (likely) slim to none – but being more actively engaged with your elected officials in the Legislature I think is the most efficient and productive way to seek justice. While it may seem impossible for a simple letter or voicemail to change the mind of your elected representative, I wholeheartedly believe that persistence is key when seeking out political goals, so the best we can do for now is to keep trying.

  2. theruraljuror says:

    While I respect your point of view, I must say I adamantly disagree with it. Maybe it’s just because Thoreau is my bro, but I think that civil disobedience performed in this specific manner is one of the most important facets of our democracy. While I do agree that Congress needs to do its job a bit more effectively, I think that this particular means of citizen participation can be more effective in demonstrating a problem that Congress can then tackle. As we discussed in class, serving on a jury is the only way the average person is able to participate democratically with the judicial branch and for that reason, the option for jury nullification is so necessary. Voting and contacting our representatives can only go so far, but to essentially spit in the face of a law – that probably gets some attention that then demands some kind of action.

  3. bpclass17 says:

    I agree with you that jury nullification is very undemocratic. In fact, I believe the practice of jury nullification runs contrary to the principles of the American tradition. It’s a good thing not many Americans know about it, and I think we should look into criminalizing this kind of behavior.

    In 1776, our Founding Fathers boldly declared that all men were created equal (especially under the law). The United States revised its Constitution a few generations later to reflect this principle in law. The Fourteen Amendment guarantees the “equal protection of the laws” for all citizens.

    Whereas mandatory minimums encourage fairness, jury nullification makes equal protection impossible by destroying any hope for the uniform application of justice. Instead we get a vigilante system of verdicts doled out randomly.

    We elect hundreds of lawmakers to determine the laws, so why would we allow twelve random people to decide whether they think the law is ‘right’? What is the point of having courts, judges, juries, or even laws if twelve random people get to make it up as they go along?

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