Monday, February 22, 2010

Does Jury Duty Violate the Thirteenth Amendment?


"The term 'involuntary servitude' was intended to cover those forms of compulsory labor akin to African slavery which, in practical operation, would tend to produce like undesirable results."
- Justice McReynolds’ majority opinion in Butler v. Perry (1916)


It has been argued that mandatory national service violates the 13th Amendment’s prohibition against “involuntary servitude.” Proponents of mandatory national service have said that it strengthens America’s civil society and directly involves citizens in their democracy.


The controversy over mandatory national service has been argued in school hallways, the halls of Congress, and the chambers of the Supreme Court since the nation's founding. Usually the debate has centered on military conscription and the draft, but it has also dealt with civilian conscription by the government.


It has been argued that the 13th Amendment bans any form of mandatory service including jury duty, but that opinion has been countered by the need for mandatory jury duty in order to secure another individual right guaranteed by the Constitution: the right to a trial by jury under the 6th and 7th Amendments.


Is mandatory jury duty necessary to ensure that juries are a representative sample of the citizenry? Or should juries be comprised of citizen-volunteers? What are the consequences of having mandatory jury duty and volunteer jury duty? Why does our Constitution mandate trials by jury?
How can we balance the need for citizens to serve their nation on the one hand, and individual freedom on the other?

During The Exchange from 12:30 to 1:30 PM on March 18th, high school students from across the nation will try to answer these questions and more during a real time video conference when they deliberate the question: “Should a year of national service be required for all Americans?” All modes of national service--voluntary, mandatory, civilian and military--will be discussed at our student roundtable.


Join the conversation by visiting The Exchange website to learn how to participate in the live interactive video conference, take our nationwide Web Poll, or contact your elected representatives and tell them how you feel about this important national issue.

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