The California Assembly, on a nearly straight-party vote, approved legislation that would be the first in the nation to allow non-citizens to serve on juries.
Headlines immediately littered the Internet with news that illegal immigrants would soon be sitting in judgment of U.S. citizens (here, here and here, for starters), albeit much of it repostings of a bogus Fox News headline on an accurately written Associated Press story.
That is not the case. Assembly Bill 1401 clearly states that the legislation only applies to a person if “among other things, he or she is a lawfully present immigrant.”
Fox News Latino got it right and also pointed out that, “Roughly 8,000 immigrants who have so-called green cards join the armed forces each year, according to Pentagon data. Nearly 30,000 non-citizen immigrants now serve in the armed forces.” Non-citizens can also be attorneys and judges, just not jurors.
Proponents of the bill argue that it will help immigrants assimilate into American society and relieve chronic juror shortages in some places. An analysis of the bill, prepared for the Assembly, also emphasized that studies show that knowledge of the law, or success of a juror, does not necessarily correlate with citizenship.
Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly voted against the bill, as did all his GOP colleagues, and bemoaned a further blurring of the line between citizens and non-citizens. “We can't completely erase the distinction between being a citizen and not,” Donnelly said. “There are certain requirements and responsibilities of being a citizen, and jury duty is one of those. . . . This effort is misguided, premature and ultimately would not essentially benefit anyone.”
Neither the state nor federal Constitution forbids non-citizens from serving on juries.
The bill still needs to be approved by the state Senate and signed by the governor to become law.
The bill analysis, prepared by Assembly Judiciary Committee Deputy Chief Counsel Kevin G. Baker, liberally quotes Alexis de Tocqueville, a French political thinker best known for his early 19th century observations on America and democracy. “The civil jury, is a powerful force in society; its influence extends well beyond the individual case that is being decided,” he wrote. “Juries teach men equity in practice. Each man, when judging his neighbor, thinks that he may be judged himself.”
De Tocqueville, indeed, might have approved of Assembly Bill 1401, although its opponents may question his bias, knowledge and relevance. He was, after all, a foreigner.