By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Politics Daily is reporting that President Obama was summoned for jury duty this week in Chicago and told the Cook County circuit court that he would not be able to make it because of the State of the Union address. I can certainly understand having a conflict because of a major address to the American people, but he should have rescheduled the jury duty. The president had an opportunity to signal that jury duty is important and a duty of citizenship, rather than just simply saying he "would not be able to serve." Let's face it, not many people like having to go on jury duty, and would love to say that they're just "not able to serve." I don't think it's right that the president--who is a lawyer himself--can just say this doesn't work for him. Think of all the people who are paid by the hour, the stay-at-home moms, and small-business owners who have to report for jury duty, no matter how inconvenient (and costly) it is for them.
Other presidents have been called for duty, and many times the judges have given them a pass, as one did for former President George W. Bush in 2006. The Christian Science Monitor reported that "in fact, no modern court has had a sitting president on a jury. Ronald Reagan came the closest when he was summoned in the 1980s by Santa Barbara County, Calif. He was granted a deferment until he was out of office. Former President Bill Clinton was willing to serve on a case involving a gang-related shooting when he was called in 2003, but the judge dismissed him." It doesn't sound like any of the former presidents just said no to the judge.
When I was a spokesman at the Department of Justice in the early 1990s, I was called for jury duty. Because I was promoting the attorney general's pro-victim, anti-crime positions daily, I figured the judge would take one look at me and I'd be let off. No such thing. He asked if any potential jurors knew the prosecutor or the defense lawyer personally, and hearing no affirmative answers, started the trial. I couldn't believe I was kept on the jury, but I have to say, it was an eye-opening experience. I learned a heck of a lot about our criminal justice system--good and bad--and I now think everyone should serve on a jury, whether they're the president or not.