Saturday, August 07, 2004

A REALLY bad idea

It would be hard to come up with an idea more certain to do damage to republican institutions than putting cameras in jury rooms, as ABC is doing in a new program called, "In the Jury Room." ABC claims that "the three state supreme courts allowed their cameras inside jury rooms in the interest of public education." But the more you think about it, it's really hard to figure out what, precisely, the public education would be. What, exactly, do we learn by watching jurors deliberate, especially when they are likely to show all the foibles and flawed judgment common to most of the people who serve on juries. The only education I can imagine that will come from this is that Americans' faith in juries, already weakened by the fact that jurors are immediately asked by the media to describe everything that went on in their deliberations, will get even weaker.

Now this might be a good thing if there was some likelihood that we were prepared to substitute some other method for trial by jury. But we're not. And the foundations of the jury trial have always been based on a fiction, the fiction that the average person, using common sense, deliberating with his fellow citizens, can arrive at justice. This may be true, for the most part, as an outcome--that is, when you put 12 flawed people in a jury room, they may come up with a better outcome than they would acting individually. But the process is, inevitably, not going to look very good.

This is, of course, connected to Americans' fetishization of openness. There is every reason to believe that openness has damaged the quality of Congressional deliberation in committees, giving interest groups more power and encouraging partisan showboating. Then courtrooms. Now juries. What is the point of all this? Does anyone actually believe that TV has improved the quality of Congressional committee deliberation or the performance of our courts, or meaningfully improved the public's understanding (in a way that would actually lead to better decision-making) of how these institutions work? If not, the only purpose of this publicity is to provide more fodder for cable television, without having to pay for actors. Republican institutions as entertainment--another indicator on the Steve Teles national-decline-watch.


Guillaume Buell said...
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Guillaume Buell said...

I absolutely agree with the comment on the impact of openness and television coverage of Congress, etc. The Founders did not intend for the actions of Congress to be analyzed and picked apart by the mass public on a daily basis, as we see on the news every day and most recently, during the 9/11 Commission hearings. The idea of the United States being a Republic seems to be a lost one among our elected officials. Let's just hope we don't go too far down this road, should that even be possible. If we become a country where the government and elected officials are swayed daily by what 50% plus 1 say in polls, the American experiment started in 1776 will fail.