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Ron Nehring

Citizens of foreign countries on California juries? A terrible idea.

Republicans must be sensitive about falling into traps set by our opponents designed to make our party look like we’re being unfair to particular groups.  Yet, there are times when we must stand on the side of sound public policy because at the end of the day, someone has to.

The Democrats who run the California State Assembly have passed a bill that would take the radical step of opening jury service to citizens of other countries who legally reside in the United States.  If passed by the Senate and signed by Governor Brown, AB 1401 would make jury duty open to any legal resident.

This is bad public policy and should be opposed.

My parents emigrated from Germany in 1961.  For seven years they went through the naturalization process, learning English and about our system of government.  Ultimately they both needed to pass English and Civics tests to earn their citizenship, which they did in 1968.

This process takes time because acclimating to America’s language, culture, and government cannot be accomplished overnight, especially when it comes to elements of our system of government that are rare or unique.

It turns out that America’s jury system is special.  Most countries do not have juries in their judicial system at all, and they are virtually nonexistent in civil cases outside of the United States and Canada.  Even in criminal cases, verdicts in most countries are rendered by judges, not juries.  In Mexico for example, juries are not used in criminal cases, and most trials do not even involve oral arguments.

Becoming a legal resident in the United States does not require passing a civics test or attending public school where the basics of America’s judicial system are taught.  It’s not reasonable to put the responsibility of jury service onto “legal residents” who may never have had an opportunity to understand how America’s unique jury system works, or even the fundamentals of America’s system of government.

This is an important distinction.  Every American citizen, born here or naturalized, has been exposed either through public school or education aimed at passing a naturalization test, to information about America’s judicial system.

Further, naturalized citizens have taken an Oath of Allegiance to the United States, which reads, “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

There is no “oath of residency.”  Legal residents are the citizens of other countries and are not required to take an oath of allegiance to the United States or to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Our friends on the left may argue that the naturalization oath is meaningless because natural born U.S. citizens are not required to take it, yet can serve on a jury.  They ignore the fact that children born and raised here have had, by the time they are eligible for jury service, 18 years of growing up and acclimating to our system of government, going to school and learning about how our judicial system works, and so on.

Trials in general and jury trials in particular do not involve minor issues – there are stakes for the parties involved, and for the integrity of our judicial system.  Constituting juries with citizens of the United States, not the citizens of foreign countries, contributes positively to the integrity of the system, and its outcomes.