By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Juries: A Great Classical and Populist Legacy

The jury box in the Pershing County, Nevada, C...
The jury box in the Pershing County, Nevada, Courthouse. Unusually, this jury box is in the middle of the room. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Yes, in ancient Greece and Rome, there were in effect juries to decide matters. (In fact, we see a jury near the end of one of Aeschylus' plays, the Eumenides.) I was reminded of this sublime legacy from the ancients the other day, as I ate lunch at a restaurant that was also serving lunch to a jury from the courthouse next door. Years ago, I published as a law student an article on the right to jury trial--in the Loyola (New Orleans) Law Review. As a much younger person, I deeply admired the right to jury trial and even quoted Aristotle's Politics to the effect that a group of minds making a decision is far better than one mind (see the last page of the article at the above Loyola Law Review link). (You will find the excerpt from Aristotle below.)

Today, I can restate and reaffirm that same view more bluntly: juries are a blessed institution because so many lawyers and judges are just too obtuse to come up with common sense decisions. The jury is a populist triumph that makes sense. You don't need a degree, you don't need to pass a bar exam, you don't need to be a narcissistic or megalomaniac elected politician to judge the guilt or innocence of someone: all you need is your citizenship and your good faith. That populist reality is refreshing in an age, as in all ages, of preening and obtuse lawyers and judges.

Aristotle, Politics, 3.11:

For the many, of whom each individual is but an ordinary person, when they meet together may very likely be better than the few good, if regarded not individually but collectively, just as a feast to which many contribute is better than a dinner provided out of a single purse. For each individual among the many has a share of virtue and prudence, and when they meet together, they become in a manner one man, who has many feet, and hands, and senses; that is a figure of their mind and disposition. Hence the many are better judges than a single man of music and poetry; for some understand one part, and some another, and among them they understand the whole. There is a similar combination of qualities in good men, who differ from any individual of the many, as the beautiful are said to differ from those who are not beautiful, and works of art from realities, because in them the scattered elements are combined, although, if taken separately, the eye of one person or some other feature in another person would be fairer than in the picture. 

Source link: Trans. by Benjamin Jowett (emphasis added).
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