Not much can sidetrack the current Republican frontrunner from continuing his countrywide self promotion tour. Performing a civic duty is apparently, now one such thing. This past Monday, Donald Trump took a break from his nationwide self-promotion tour to report for jury duty at the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
Knowing full well that the event would be a spectacle, Trump deviated from what the New York Times reports was his usual habit of not showing up for “at least five jury summonses, going back to 2006.” And therein lies the problem. Trump’s blatantly specious motive for finally attending serves himself rather than serving the citizens it is intended for. But regardless of his motives, the spectacle provides a forum to instead focus on the civic obligation that the responsibility entails.
Few people enjoy opening an envelope that contains a summons to their respective courthouse to serve jury duty. And while it is not illegal to fail to report, for people that don’t have lawyers on retainer like Trump, it is considered compulsory. Multiple failures to attend can also result in jurisdiction dependent penalties. Libertarians claim that jury duty can be compared to conscription and is a violation of citizen rights, basing their argument on the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which outlaws involuntary solitude. Nevermind that this notion has been decided by the Supreme Court in Butler v. Perry (240 U.S. 328) stating that:
“It introduced no novel doctrine with respect of services always treated as exceptional, and certainly was not intended to interdict enforcement of this duties which individuals owe to the state, such as services in the army, militia, on the jury, etc.”
Simplifying the somewhat dense legalese, the particular sentence determines that jury duty is in fact a civic duty owed to the government. Unless a law or Supreme Court ruling is passed negating this precedent, this stance remains as legal fact.
Others argue less extremely that people have lives to lead; other personal and pressing obligations result in an exorbitantly high opportunity cost of spending a day at the court house. The fact that companies are not forced to pay for leave while serving does little to quell the frustration of having to serve on a jury of one’s peers. The fact that there are exceptions for certain professions such as doctors and lawyers as well as for those who provide an account of extenuating circumstances preventing service, leads to both envy and dishonesty, respectively.
It is not difficult to see how a once noble civic responsibility has gradually morphed into something that now possesses negative connotations. Opening the letter becomes an immediate inconvenience which often results in a “why me?” attitude that seeps into the entire process. This prevailing stigma is not unlike the one evoked when the middle of April rolls around. One could argue that it is worse in that at least taxes pay for services otherwise unattainable, whereas jury duty can be considered a thankless endeavor. And this is precisely why it is a responsibility that should be cherished.
The right to trial by jury is the only right found in both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Sixth Amendment states:
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”
The bolded text is used to emphasize the importance that the Founding Fathers placed on creating a judicial process based on fairness, openness and trust. Having witnessed the atrocities caused by trial without due process, the Founders sought to placate any fears that the United States of America would follow in the footsteps of previous rulers who had the authority to arrest, try and punish its subjects with little to no recourse or oversight.
Being tried by ones peers is thus one of the fundamental building blocks of the founding of this country. It was created was as a check on governmental powers and its resulting oppression. Ignoring that fact is to ignore one of the core principles that this country was founded upon. Sure, it might be inconvenient; the court never has enough parking, the jury selection process isn’t exactly exhilarating, and a particular trial’s subject matter might not be easily digestible. But nothing worthwhile is ever easy. The other option is to strike out the Sixth Amendment (and its equivalent in the Bill of Rights) in order to replace it with one that it sought to eradicate.
Donald’s motives were probably not genuine, but the end result is what matters. Before he began his run for president his inclination was to do what most people cannot; skip out on jury duty. But now that he is running for the country’s most powerful office, it is obvious that he understands how important it is not to shirk the time honored obligation to simply show up. In the end, and contrary to his denunciations of politics, Mr. Trump is a politician. Every move is calculated and this one was no different. He correctly discerned that attending to his duty would provide free press. But more importantly he understood that an avoidance of this particular obligation would reflect negatively on him. He was not wrong in thinking this.
It is easy to let life’s distractions pull you away from the things that are not the most enjoyable. But it is the duty of this country’s citizens to uphold the laws and traditions that our founding countrymen fought, bled and died for. Distractions are no excuse for neglecting your duties as a citizen. It is your obligation to your country, your peers and yourself.