Court of Many Colors

If there’s a high season for jury duty, perhaps it begins in June. My sister-in-law was summoned to serve last week, as was one of my good friends this week. Like voting, jury duty is that sometimes humdrum responsibility that comes with citizenship in the U.S.  But our government should spend a few pennies to make the summons itself more exciting.  Instead of reading, “You are hearby summoned…”, how about, “Congratulations!  You’ve just won a day in court!”.

48 - humdrum

I was summoned myself several years ago. I think everyone should experience jury duty at least once in a lifetime. My county’s process may be different than yours. After the summons, you call the courthouse and punch in your juror number. If you “win”, you get to report to the courthouse on the designated date. You join a couple hundred of your county-mates in a holding room, where you wait several hours to be called to the individual courtrooms, where you may or may not join eleven of your neighbors in the jury box. The whole filtering process takes about a half a day, and 80% of those who made it to the holding room in the first place are dismissed.  No matter where you end up, you won’t receive another summons for at least a year.

During my summons I did make it to the courthouse, but I never made it out of the holding room. The only drama for me was wondering if my parking ticket would be validated.  But I did depart with an interesting observation. Surrounded by hundreds of others from my county, I realized I was looking at the purest slice of my neighbors that any circumstance can create.

Think about that. Within your county (or just your immediate neighborhood), there are dozens of places where people gather, and countless reasons more for doing so. Schools. Sporting events.  Places of worship. Office buildings. Parks. Supermarkets. Restaurants.  The list goes on. But which can you point to and say “now these are the people that live in my neighborhood.”

Jury duty draws everyone; the business executive and the ditch digger; the homemaker and the traveling salesman; the parent and the (over-eighteen) child; the wealthy, the middle class, and the poor; the overworked and the underemployed; and every other walk of life regardless of political, religious, sexual, or ethnic affiliation. I can even include our county’s youngest residents because our courthouse offers child care!  In fact, the only neighbors you won’t see at jury duty are those with a doctor’s note or those who aren’t U.S. citizens.  Everyone else gets to play.

Jury duty is not sexy. It is typically an inconvenience. Even if you serve, your case is not likely to make headlines. But if you do make it to the courthouse, look around and take a measure of those sitting around you. It’s your county – in a nutshell of the purest kind!