Bush is the nation's BMOC, swaggering around as if the world
were his campus, despite record high disapproval ratings. The
Republican-led Congress, also tanking in the polls, is a bunch
of power-drunk frat boys who can't keep their wandering hands
off the Constitution. But the judiciary? The third branch of
government? That's the branch for me.
The judicial branch --- as I saw it when I arrived for jury
duty last month --- is the 90s male of the three branches of
government. It wants you to know it cares. It doesn't swagger.
It doesn't grope. Eager to please, thanks to sensitivity training
by the American Bar Association and some states' efforts, the
jury system is more user-friendly, accommodating.
Sitting in the jurors' lobby on a sunny Friday morning, surrounded
by 125 people in various stages of misery, I twitched with excitement.
Finally! I'll get to be a juror. I'll mete out justice! I'll
sway 11 angry men with my brilliant liberal arguments. I will
--- dare I hope? --- change the world.
Like a desperate contestant on The
I had dressed to seduce: in this case, bland "normal" clothes. I feared
my typical look --- vintage-dress-over-jeans or fuck-you all-black
--- would surely get me disqualified during the voir dire, when
both lawyers interview potential jurors. In beige and pink with
a touch of lace, I was an open-minded flower, the kind of girl
defense attorneys and prosecutors crave.
The cheerful jury administrator welcomed us and listed the many
ways jury duty has become more efficient. But first she said
all legal excuses for avoiding serving had recently been abolished,
as if every person in the room didn't already know that.
"I'll bet this is the first time for most of you," she
said. The unwilling jury virgins --- mostly white, mostly working-to-middle-class
--- slumped lower in their seats.
Not me. "Pick me, pick me!" I urged her silently.
The people beside me edged away.
She continued. Not long ago jurors had to sit in a smaller,
windowless room for two weeks waiting to be picked. Now we have
all this. With a Vanna White sweep of her hand, she indicated
the dozen windows, the lunchroom, and the photographic history
of Rochester on display. In addition, she said, jury duty now
lasts only one week. And you can call the night before to see
if you're needed. We don't waste your time!
"If you have any comments or questions, please let us know," she
said sincerely. "We're here to serve you."
Then the TVs flickered on for a video presentation. You can
always tell how much an institution wants your love by how well-produced
its production is. Bush's Social Security tour, or his Mission
Accomplished debacle, or his <insert your favorite Bush PR
blitz here>; the TV-and-Internet campaign by GE; and now the
jury system's ads and video.
Harrison Ford stars in ABA ads nationally and Ed Bradley of
60 Minutes narrates the slick, 20-minute film shown in the Monroe
County jurors' lobby. It starts with a scene of medieval justice
--- a grimy mob throwing a man into the river. If he sinks he's
innocent, if he floats he's guilty. The poor guy sinks and has
to be dragged out and revived to celebrate the verdict.
The video goes on to appeal to our sense
of history (the Ancient
Greeks thought up this nifty system!), our self-interest (that
could be you up on the stand someday!), and our egos (your vote
means more here than in elections!). (Actually, wiping my ass
meant more than my vote in 2000.)
We were divided into four groups. Three groups were whisked
off to courtrooms. The lucky ones would go on to brilliant futures
as jurors. Maybe they'd even sit on the trial of a celebrity
molester, a murderer ex-Klansman, or a serial killer.
There were 30 of us left. We would be called to our courtroom
soon, the cheerful administrator promised.
We were not called in the first hour.
We were not called in the second hour.
We were not called in the third hour.
By 4 p.m., my group resembled that medieval
mob we'd seen in the video six hours earlier. All day, while we waited to be called,
we'd watched the others come and go. Some had sat on juries and
decided their cases already, others swapped tips for flunking
the voir dire. (Say all rapists should be castrated. Say some
of your best friends are the defendant's sex/race/religion/shoe
As the hours passed, my mood had gone from eager to contemplative
to bored to drooling. At this point my mind was moving in lazy
loops around the words "jury" and "duty."
Duty sounds like doo-dee.
Reporting for duty. That's what John Kerry said at the Democratic
Convention. John Kerry said doo-dee!
Then, the cruelest cut: Everyone was dismissed --- except for
my group, of course.
"Come on, let us go!" one woman shouted toward the
desk where the administrator cowered.
"Tell the judge we're not happy," a jocular man in
a golf shirt said, not sounding very jocular. "This is a
waste of my time."
I worried the mob would throw her into the river and not wait
to see if she sank or floated. I worried I'd never get my chance
to sit on a jury.
Wedding bells tolled at the church across the street as, moments
later, we were summoned to the courtroom. This was it! I refreshed
my lipstick and patted my hair the way I'd seen older women do.
I think it's for good luck.
Two male lawyers watched as we entered
the courtroom. This was
my Miss America Pageant moment. I held my head high, like Lady
Justice herself, except without the blindfold. I tried not to
look too smart or dumb or tall or fat.
Wait. Which is more average --- fat or thin? To cover all the
bases, I alternated between sucking in and pushing out my stomach
as I walked.
I was in. How could I not be? It was a match made in heaven.
The jury system, remade as an eager-to-please groom, weds the
ultimate citizen --- a blandly attired bride with a bit of drool
dried on her cheek.
But what was this? The groom stood me up at the altar? It couldn't
be! Rather than choosing the 16 potential jurors based on their
desire to change the world or their unique ability to morph between
thin and fat while walking, the court chose them alphabetically.
How arbitrary. And typically male. Through tears I watched as
Abrams, Agnello, and the not-so-jocular man in the golf shirt
were called to the jury box. What does he have that I don't have?
What he had, it turns out, is the perfect
name. His name was
America. Had he changed his name? Or just been born lucky? Either
way, Mr. America had it all: alphabetical dominance, patriotic
appeal, and he'd even played hard to get earlier when he yelled
at the administrator. I never had a chance.