EDITORIAL: Brown should veto noncitizens-on-juries bill

The Fresno BeeAugust 27, 2013 

Gov. Jerry Brown.

RANDY PENCH — The Sacramento Bee

The Legislature has passed Assembly Bill 1401, which would allow foreigners on the path to citizenship — those who have the status of "lawful permanent citizens" and hold green cards — to serve on California juries.

We urge Gov. Jerry Brown to veto the bill because it calls into question the very meaning of citizenship. Like voting or holding public office, jury duty is one of the ways that citizens share in the governance of our democratic republic.

The Legislature, on a 25-11 vote in the Senate and a 48-28 vote in the Assembly, said these noncitizens should enjoy this right of citizenship. We would remind the lawmakers that lawful permanent residents are potential future citizens. They should be encouraged to make the transition to citizenship — not provided incentives to avoid taking that final step. Why should green-card holders become citizens if they can enjoy the rights of citizenship?

Nothing in the California or U.S. constitutions prohibits noncitizen service on juries. Proponents are correct that in the early days of the republic, courts in many states had the discretion to create half-citizen, half-noncitizen juries for cases that involved foreigners — for example, a trial involving foreign sailors in the murder of a sea captain or a civil case involving foreign traders. That argument is a dodge, however. The practice disappeared worldwide by the late 19th century.

The main argument for AB 1401 is that individuals should have access to a trial by a "jury of their peers." Just think about that. If an American citizen commits a crime or sues in commercial courts in Great Britain (or any other country with a jury system), should he expect a jury of British citizens — or of Americans? Foreigners among us deserve fair treatment in the courts, but they should not share in the governance structures that go to the heart of our representative government until they become citizens.

This is not, as Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez claims, like the exclusion of women or blacks from jury duty and voting. They fought long battles to win the rights and responsibilities of equal citizenship.

Brown signed a bill Tuesday that allows noncitizens to serve as poll workers. He should not take the next step by agreeing to let green-card holders serve on juries.

 

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