Unlike most jurors, those chosen to serve in the Jan. 6 cases will be very familiar with the defendant. As human beings who lived through the last eight years, they may well have pre-existing feelings about him. But like all jurors, they will be bound by the applicable law, and by strict rules of process and evidence designed to filter out those prejudices. Mr. Trump will enjoy the presumption of innocence as well as all the protections the Constitution guarantees to criminal defendants, including the right to due process, the right not to be a witness against himself and the right to be tried by a jury of his peers.
This may be little comfort to him, but it should be a great comfort to the rest of us.
“This is about political participation,” Akhil Reed Amar, a constitutional scholar at Yale Law School who has written frequently on the significance of juries, told me. “They’re about connecting jurors to each other and to the government. It’s a political institution designed to have the reality, the appearance and the feeling, the experience, of self-government.”
America’s founders understood this well. Even before the Constitution was adopted, every state provided for trials by jury in criminal cases. In the Bill of Rights, three separate amendments ensure the right to a jury.
Thomas Jefferson called juries “the only anchor, ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” James Wilson, a drafter of the Constitution and justice on the first Supreme Court, saw them as “a great channel of communication, between those who make and administer the laws, and those for whom the laws are made and administered.”
In modern America, jury service tends to be equated with drudgery — a point illustrated by the movie’s portrayal of the drab, cramped jury room, where the windows stick and the fan is hard to turn on. And yet research has repeatedly shown that jurors leave their service with more trust in the justice system than they had when they went in. Even as the number of jury trials has declined dramatically, they remain an essential part of our civic life, and a counterweight to the feelings of cynicism and hopelessness so many Americans experience today.