Jury Duty

I had jury duty last Wednesday and Thursday. I was not selected for a jury, and I was both relieved and disappointed. I won’t say much about the trial other than that it was serious stuff. The initial jury pool was seventy people, jury selection took two days, and the trial was scheduled for four weeks.

During voir dire, one of the prosecutors related his own jury experience, years ago, telling us he felt like the attorneys were asking all the wrong questions. He then asked us if anyone in the jury pool felt that way, if we felt there was anything they should be asking but were not. I didn’t have anything to add at the time, but twice during the defense’s question, I thought about that.

The first defense question that bothered me was “Do you feel comfortable sitting in judgement of another person?” I understand the defense’s reason for asking the question, but it seemed wrong to me. I raised my juror card (lucky thirteen), and when called on, I told the defense attorney that it wasn’t our job to judge the defendant; it was our job to judge the facts in the case and the defendant’s actions. Other jurors seemed to appreciate my comment, though I suspect the defense did not.

The second question bothered me even more. It was something like “Do you feel, at the start of the trial, that the balance may be tilted slightly toward one side or the other. Specifically, toward the prosecution?” Once again, I understand the defense’s reason for asking, but it’s the wrong question, and even asking it does a disservice to the defendant. I was not called on, so I didn’t get a chance to answer in court, but this is what I would have said.

In a criminal trial, the balance is tilted entirely in favor of the defendant. It’s not our job as jurors to smile and politely accept the fiction that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty, and then forget all of that as soon the prosecution describes the awful things the defendant did in the opening statement. Nothing the prosecution says – not even the charges themselves – has any value unless it’s confirmed by the evidence presented in court. Our job as jurors is to examine the prosecution’s case with skepticism, and to weigh it not only against the defense’s case, but also against the presumption of innocence.

I suspect the prosecution would not have liked that answer any more than the defense liked my other answer.

I Voted

I filled out my ballot today, and I voted for Hillary Clinton.

There are lots of other decisions on the ballot, many of which will have more practical effects on my life. I urge everyone to carefully consider everything on their ballot – it’s all important.

But in this post, I’m only going to discuss my choice for President.

Above all, I voted against Donald Trump. He is not fit to serve this country in any capacity, let alone lead it, and I will waste no further (virtual) ink on him.

I also voted for Hillary Clinton. I voted for her not just because she’s the least bad option, but because I believe she will be a positive force for this country. I can’t give her my full support, but then I haven’t unreservedly supported any major politician since Ronald Reagan, when I was too young to realize that every politician is a flawed human being.

For a start, it’s important to me to vote for the first woman to become President. Progress on equality for all Americans has been excruciatingly slow since, well, ever, and I believe that President Clinton will be a voice not just for women but for everyone who wants to live up to the declaration that “all men are created equal”.

I generally support the policy positions of the Democratic party, and much of the Republican platform seems downright extreme, especially compared to moderate party I remember from my childhood. But with the exception of climate change, which needs immediate, responsible action, my vote isn’t about whose policies I prefer. Given the extreme intransigence of the Republican party, I expect very little of President Clinton’s agenda to get through Congress anyway.

I want government to work, to accomplish the myriad things large and small that keep the country functioning every day. We clearly can’t trust the Republican Party with this task – they have spent the past thirty years trying to convince us that government is always the problem, never the solution, and that’s even before considering the spectacular ignorance of the party’s current candidate. The Democratic Party’s record is far from excellent – they usually advocate more government rather than better government as the solution to a particular problem – but I do have cause for hope. Hillary Clinton has more and broader experience in federal government than anyone who has ever run for President, and I believe that experience will make her an effective manager of the executive branch. When I voted for Barak Obama eight years ago, my biggest reservation was that he would lack the skills to run the executive branch effectively. His administration has been more competent than I expected – certainly better than the Bush administration – but we can always do better. That is why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. She may well disappoint, but I have hope.

I do have reservations about the next Clinton administration. Bill Clinton’s policies on criminal justice and welfare reform, though universally supported at the time, have had devastating effects. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy has gotten American involved in ugly, bloody conflicts across the Middle East, resulting in death and destruction across the region. Unfortunately, no public figure has been able to articulate anything better. Though broad principles apply, every situation is different in foreign policy, and right now an awful lot of those situations are going to turn out bad no matter what.

The rest of my reservations have to do with the general haze of dishonesty surrounding Clinton. The trouble is, the haze is all we can see. In all the hype about Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi! or the email server or whatever else, we’ve seen a lot of things that look vaguely shifty or shady, but no investigation has ever produced concrete proof of anything criminal or even seriously dishonest. If there were something real there, we’d have seen it by now.