Tag Archives: constitution

Jury Duty

It’s been awhile since I last had a summons for jury duty. I’ve only been called twice in my entire lifetime, once in Florida, and once in Colorado.

Both times, I was selected for the jury, and both times I was elected as jury foreman.

I really enjoyed the experience both times, and I completely fail to understand why so many in our society go to such great lengths to escape this duty and honor.

I was reminded of this again this week by a story in the Denver Post about a lady who dressed strangely, over applied her makeup and then lied about post-traumatic-stress-disorder. All to escape a few days of playing a key part in how our judicial system works.

In the United States, jury duty is usually compulsory. Employers are not allowed to fire you, and in some cases, you are compensated for your time. Not much, but it’s usually enough to buy lunch.

In the early 90’s, while living in Dade County, Florida, I was summoned to a federal jury, and ended up serving on a first degree murder trial. The case involved a young black man who had gunned down another young black man using a Tek-9 sub-machine gun.

That such a gun is even available to your average american citizen is enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. I’m all for the rights of the people to bear arms, but do we really need our own personal machine gun? I think not.

It was a most interesting case, and if you have ever been a reader of mystery novels, the evidence as laid out by the district attorney was every bit as enthralling and engaging as any novel I ever read. The entire case was built on circumstantial evidence, and was riveting.

The defense, as I recall, put on not much of a defense at all. It didn’t help that the defendant looked menacing, acted menacing, and appeared to be bored with the entire process.

Behind the scenes, juries are a group of strangers, often reluctant to talk to each other, and it was very apparent that unless someone stepped up and took the lead, we were never going to proceed with the case. No one wanted to be in charge, so I spoke up, and before I knew it, the other 11 people present had elected me foreman.

Being a jury foreman is really nothing special. It just means that you get to fill out the forms and present the verdict to the baliff. As far as what goes on in the jury room, it’s like herding a bunch of cats, or looking after a bunch of toddlers in a large room where a basket full of butterflies has just been released.

My second tour of duty as a jurist was not too long after I arrived in Colorado. I got summoned to a local county court, and ended up being selected for a jury to try a man trying to get out of a DUI charge.

I don’t know why people think they can escape a DUI these days. You get tested on a machine that has been calibrated sixty ways from Sunday, by people who get recertified every 90 days or so on how to use said machine. If you are driving drunk and get stopped by a cop and charged, you might as well just accept your penalty and move on. The cases are always iron clad, and most of the rest of us who have to serve on the juries that you ask for have little tolerance for drunk drivers. We’ve seen too many news reports about what happens when the worst of you aren’t lucky enough to get stopped before you kill a family.

Anyway, one of the few ways we can actually participate in our government without having to run for election is to serve on a Jury.  I actually look forward to my retirement, where I plan on locating the nearest courthouse, and plan on spending at least one or two days a month just sitting in the back of a courtroom listening. It’s got to be at least as good as television.

Next time you get that summons in the mail, instead of thinking of it as a major pain in your life, look on it as an opportunity to see a free theatrical show, where you get to play one of the parts.

 

 

Woe is Us! Part 2

On Monday, April 2nd, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion in a 5-4 vote that allows people arrested for minor offenses to be strip-searched before being admitted to jail, even if officials have no other reason to suspect them of carrying contraband or weapons.

I am almost positive that when the founders of our country wrote the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution and included “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause …” they would have thought that being strip-searched, without a warrant or probably cause was “unreasonable”.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that the courts are in no position to second-guess the judgement of correctional officials.

I believe that the five members of the Supreme Court who voted to allow this practice have abdicated one of their primary duties, which is to protect the spirit of the Constitution.

The founders of our nation had experienced tyranny in government, unfair taxes, near dictatorship under local officials appointed by the distant crown, and knew when they wrote our constitution that power corrupts, and absolute power should be given to no government.

Our three branches of government are supposed to check and balance each other. When one of them fails to perform this basic constitutional task, then our system begins to crumble.

The Supreme Court is the last stop on our train. If they don’t stand up and defend the constitution, then the rest of us are in for a rough ride.

The United States is quickly sliding from the worlds largest economy to less than the best. China holds about 8 percent of our national debt. Our educational system is now rated as average.  Among industrialized nations, we are behind South Korea, Finland, Estonia and even Poland in educational rankings.

The best thing we have going for us is our government, but in the past few years it seems to be headed into a meltdown with Congress unable or unwilling to do its job, a slate of Republican candidates that are constant fodder for the nightly talk show stand-up comedy routines, and now a Supreme Court that has lost sight of its responsibility.

Woe is Us. Redux.

Woe is us!

I’ve posted on this before in a previous blog, but since that post went up in smoke when my previous service provider decided to change software without notifying me, I’ll have to write it again.

I know our educational system is putting out a lot of students who can’t point to the states on either side of them and name them accurately, or spell the street they live on, or explain how the founders of our country were brilliant and set us up with a constitution that provides for checks and balances with three branches of government, but I’m hoping enough of them are annoyed with our state of affairs that they learn. Knowledge is power, and a citizenry armed with knowledge is as dangerous as any other.

As my Dad used to say, a man who speaks from both sides of his mouth isn’t to be trusted. President Barack Obama did that the other day when he made a statement that warned the “unelected” Supreme Court against striking down his health care law.

Now rather you are for or against some or all of his health care law, you should be incensed that a President of the United States, a former constitutional law professor, and a man who has the power to appoint a person to the bench of the Supreme Court would come out with such a bald-faced statement, that has so much wrong with it on its face that it is hard to find a point to begin.

One of the primary functions of the Supreme Court is to provide a check and balance against laws enacted by the Congress that are unconstitutional. It doesn’t matter how much good someone thinks the law might do, or how many people might benefit from such a law, if it violates the constitution, then the Supreme Court must strike it down.

If Congress wants to make new laws that are not possible with the current constitution, there is a mechanism in place to modify it. If 38 states ratify an amendment to the constitution to change or add a provision, and Congress then makes a law that fits within that change, the Supreme Court will leave it alone.

Like many other people in the United States, there are some portions of the health care law that I like, but there are other portions that I think violate our basic rights as American citizens. My Government should not be able to force me to purchase a product I do not wish to purchase, or cannot afford to purchase. If I am struggling to feed and clothe and house my family now, what will the added burden of mandated health insurance do to me?

It is utterly irresponsible for the President of the United States to infer that “unelected” judges have no rights to make decisions on important cases. Unelected judges are the best kind because they have no reason to alter their decisions in order to win an election, or raise campaign money.

If the President of the United States can’t understand how the three branches of government are supposed to work together to protect the people of the United States from an onerous, tyrannical government, then Woe Is Us.

Click!

There is an article in the New York Times today, that scares the holy beejezus out of me as much as anything else I’ve read about how some dang fool has discovered another way to make things “easy”.

Apparently these remote clicker devices are now being introduced into our schools as a way for teachers to take attendance or give pop quizzes.

These devices are showing up at city hall meetings and churches and other public gatherings, being used to instantly measure the opinions of a crowd.

While I can certainly see  is a convenience factor in using these devices, as in the example in the Times article of a Sorority election, or even as a limited aid to teachers in school, I see it robbing us of our ability to speak up with an informed and passionate opinion of what matters.

What scares me about these devices is that in some instances these devices are used to gather instant feedback from a crowd, that is displayed on a bar graph on a screen as the data is gathered.

Suppose you are at a city hall meeting or even a meeting of your local HOA, and a new rule or regulation is being proposed. Based on a silent gathering of anonymous clicks from a crowd, a rule is passed, without discussion of it’s merits. In our society, we know without a doubt that letting a crowd rule means that a minority is going to end up being left out of something.

We’ve always had town meetings, or communal gatherings. There has been a set of rules devised to keep order and allow people to speak their minds. An anonymous clicker does not allow this, it’s black and white, cold and unfeeling.

Crowds can be mean and nasty and unforgiving. As much as we Americans like to think that we are democratic and that the majority always rules, it just isn’t so. We are a Republic, ruled by officials we elect, and those officials are allowed to vote as they please in representation of we the people.

I suspect there are many times that we breath a sigh of relief that our elected representatives have gone against the crowd and put into place rules and laws that protect minorities or less popular projects.

Cuyahoga River November 3 1952

Without a Republican form of government (and no, I don’t mean Republican the party), I believe that Rosa Parks would still be in the back of the bus, the Cuyahoga river would still be in flames and DDT would still be used to control pests on our farms.

These clickers may do a good job at gathering the opinon of a majority present, or gathering answers to a series of questions, but they hide the truth of nuance and reason and individuality.

What scares me is a vision of our future citizens being restricted to pushing a button to indicate a preference to a predefined set of options, without any discussion or ability to compromise parts of option A with parts of option B.

This is exactly how our Congress has been operating lately, and you can see the mess we are in now because of an abandonment of our abilities to compromise, protect the weak and do things that are just plain common sense, in spite of what a majority may think needs to happen.

Clickers should stay in the living room, controlling your TV. They should not be allowed to control the way we think, and we should be teaching our kids that speaking their minds is an inalienable right and that pushing a button is no substitute.