Citizens Juries to Choose Supreme Court Justices?!
My July 6 Washington Post headlines email contains this item: "Are a Nominee's Views Fair Game?": "White House and Senate Democrats headed toward a collision yesterday over the role ideology should play in the selection of the next Supreme Court justice, outlining a key conflict that could define the nomination battle over a successor to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor." There's more than meets the eye here...
This is an admission that Supreme Court cases are as much about ideology as they are about the Constitution. Or, to put it more generally, our interpretations of life -- and our final decisions -- are always filtered through our worldviews and values. So, in governance, the question becomes "WHOSE worldviews and values will prevail?"
I was fascinated to find that Ned Crosby's Citizens Juries didn't start out as a means to promote democracy. They started out as a solution in a graduate study of ethics: "How do we legitimately decide what is ethical?" Since ethics and morality are so incredibly dependent on the worldviews, values and traditions of communities -- and thus are as varied as communities are -- does that mean that "everything is relative"? No, decided Crosby. It means the best way to decide what is ethical for a given community is to pick a randomly selected group of people from that community and to impartially present them with all the facts and options -- including a chance to interview and cross-examine experts from all sides. Then help them talk together, listen to each other and deliberate sensibly. Crosby suggests that what such a group came up with would be the closest we can get to determining "what is ethical" in and for that community.
That is, of course, debatable. But no more debatable than the idea that what is Constitutional should be decided by people appointed by a President and approved by a Senate. I have a feeling that a Citizens Jury would, in the end, prove more impartial.
I find it fascinating to contemplate a radically different process than what we're witnessing today:Imagine twelve top contenders for the next Supreme Court Justice being chosen as follows: four proposed by the Republicans, four by the Democrats, and four by a panel of law professors chosen at random from all the law professors in the country. Now imagine a randomly selected group of two dozen US citizens who hear testimony about the strengths and weaknesses of those candidates -- and interview any candidate or expert they want to talk with -- and then deliberate to a two-thirds majority conclusion...
-- all in the full light of media that asks not, "Which of these horses will win the race?" but "What are these citizens going through as they make this very important decision?" so we could all witness tough, brilliant citizenship in action....
posted by Tom Atlee on Wednesday July 6 2005
updated on Saturday September 24 2005
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