On Monday I fulfilled my civic duty. I did this by sitting on my butt, because that’s what justice requires in These United States.
Here is my Jury Duty Reading List, based on my experience.
U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights
The Holy Bible: Judges
On the Duty of Civil Disobedience
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
I was limited to what is on my Kindle, which is the only reading material I carried with me. You should know that I am too cheap to actually pay money for Kindle books, so I mostly have classics, which are free. I did splurge on buying The Holy Bible (NRSV) with notes.
The most obvious place to start would be with the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But I didn’t have that on my Kindle. The Bill of Rights was posted at the front of the courtroom, but I was too afraid of the stern lady in the fuschia blouse who was running the show. I stayed in my seat.
It might have been proper to read, in the Bible, the book of Judges. This is one of the books where it says “And they did evil in the sight of the Lord” every third line. Fittingly tedious. Or maybe the Psalms – all the references on righteousness?
But just then, Fuschia Blouse called us all into the jury selection room, where we picked up our written instructions. This paper shouted, all in caps, that, among other things, we had to stay in the room the entire day (except for lunchtime). We were not to discuss the case, our involvement with the justice system, or even our opinion of jury duty. (That is why I am giving you a reading list instead of my opinion.)
It was at this point that I thought it appropriate to read Henry David Thoreau’s On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (1849). It doesn’t take long for Hank to get around to expressing his anarchist tendencies: “That government is best which governs not at all...” Well, that would never work in this courtroom. If it were not for the iron rule of Fuschia Blouse, jury duty would be chaos and the judicial system would break down. Hank’s essay turned out to be an objection to slavery and paying taxes. Old Hank was quite a curmudgeon, but he had a point – he objects to paying taxes to a government which enslaved a large portion of its populace.
Fuschia Blouse started calling our names so that we could pick up a form. One guy went up to get his form, and she said to him, “You’re wearing shorts. How could this have escaped my attention?” This guy must not have listened to the phone message when he called in about jury duty, because it specifically said, “Show up on time. Don’t wear shorts.” He was excused but will have to come back another day to fulfill his civic duty, while wearing pants.
After lunch, we gathered back in the jury selection room. The charges were read. It was then that I thought I should read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, because of Holmes’ behavior “alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition...”
Fourteen citizens were picked from among us (I was not picked), and voilà, the jury was chosen! And then, at 2:30 PM, Fuschia Blouse announced that at 3 PM the rest of us would be excused. Time to read Candide - It was the best of all possible worlds! I would get home in time for my afternoon work meeting.
In actuality, I had quite a lot of time to do work. I also prayed quite a lot: prayed that the jurors who were selected would take it seriously, prayed for the defendant, prayed thanks that we have a better judicial system than many countries do (although ours is certainly far from perfect). And now I am praying that I will not have to fulfill my civic duty for a while.