Today I had jury duty--or, as I prefer to call it, jury conscription. I was selected to sit for voir dire for a civil case. Before getting around to hardship questions (which was my chief practical concern, seeing as how I'm a stay-at-home-dad unable to find alternative childcare for an entire week), the plaintiff's attorney asked if anyone had any "strong feelings" about our civil justice system.
My hand shot up.
He looked a bit surprised, as if it was the kind of question he asks as a matter of course but is accustomed to receiving only the chirping of crickets in response. He asked me to explain. I raised my voice to ensure even the spectators in the back row could hear me and told him that I was absolutely opposed to the entire concept of forced jury duty and that I believed that qualified as "strong feelings." His mild surprise became something more like disbelief, and the judge gave me the arched eyebrow. Murmurs went through the court room, and I heard a couple of jurors in the box with me give quiet exclamations of "Yeah!"
The attorney said, "But yet here you are. You still came today."
To this I replied (while gesturing toward the judge and bailiff), "Yes, because they have the guns and can force me." Louder murmurs from the crowd and jury box, and quite a bit of laughter this time, too.
The attorney nodded at me, conceding the point. He then informed me that jury duty is just something you do as a citizen, like paying your taxes--"You pay taxes, right?" I said, "Yes, I do, because I'm on the receiving end of the threat of force." He then looked around to the entire jury box and said, "Do you all understand that jury duty is a requirement, a part of being a citizen? You understand that, right?" A few nods, a few stony stares.
He gave up trying to convince me of the morality of forced labor and simply asked if my feelings would prevent me from deciding on the case fairly and impartially. I admitted that, since it was a civil case, my objection to the government's actions would have no bearing on my decisions regarding the case.
Interestingly, after this exchange, another juror spoke up and said that he agreed--that he was only there because of the government's ability to compel him (okay, he wasn't that eloquent). Then juror after juror (some of whom had had a chance to speak earlier) started coming up with what appeared to be rather contrived reasons they couldn't serve. It seemed I had emboldened some of them to refuse to just go along.
Eventually, the attorney got around to asking about hardships and asked me about my situation as a stay-at-home-dad. I said that I would not be able to arrange childcare for them beyond today. The judge, looking a bit exasperated, said that that fact, combined with my "earlier statements" meant I would be excused from jury duty.
However, as I stood up to leave the court room, the judge said, "Hang on a second." My spider-sense told me he was about to make a critical mistake. I was right. "What do you suggest we do if jury duty isn't compulsory? Just ask for volunteers!?"
Yep, that's right--he actually gave me a platform to discuss the issue in front of the entire court room (there were 50-60 people in there).
"Yes! Ask for volunteers, that's fine. Just don't use force against innocent people."
He goes on, "So what should we do if a bunch of people with an interest in having the case decided a certain way come along and volunteer to be on the jury? Should we just have some government official make the decision instead of a jury?"
I replied that I was in fact opposed to the entire idea of a government monopoly on dispute resolution and that private individuals and firms should handle such things on a voluntary basis. He asked if I meant things like arbitration firms. I said that, yes, that was a great example of what I was talking about and things like that could well take the place of a monopoly court system. I said that the most important thing was not to force innocent people to do things against their will. The court room was dead silent, some people looking confused, but many aiming huge smiles my way. The judge just shook his head and said, "Okay...good luck to you" (though he said it in that way you'd talk to your idiot friend who was about to do something fantastically stupid and dangerous and wouldn't be talked out of it).
As I left, the bailiff whispered something to me while grinning quite genuinely. I couldn't make it out clearly, but the message seemed to be one of support and admiration. Then, as I passed the last row of spectators, an old man rather reminiscent of Morgan Freeman grabbed my hand and shook it, smiling ear to ear.
There you have it. I consider today a minor victory in the long struggle to shift social consciousness away from legitimization of the state.
[Author's note: while the dialogue here is not how things went down verbatim, it's awfully damn close.]
[Housekeeping note: I apologize for the state of my blog; I upgraded it and promptly lost my blogroll and all my categories. I'm rather incompetent in these matters and have no idea how to fix it yet.]