September 26, 2019 by Suzanne Judd, LHC Director


Jury DutyA few weeks ago, I had that wonderful American privilege of being selected for jury duty to the 10th Judicial Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama.  I say “wonderful” tongue-in-cheek since, like most of the people I was chatting with in the Jury Assembly Room, I had no desire to be there.  Parking was a nightmare.  They simply don’t have enough spots for the 400 jurors that were summoned to downtown Birmingham for the shot at being selected to sit on a jury.  This was my second time in three months coming on a Monday morning to wait to see if I would be selected for a jury.  Three months prior, I was dismissed because I had not lived in Jefferson County continuously for a year due to a six-month commitment in France. The disqualification didn’t make sense to me.  Luckily, I was back 90 days later to try again.  And this time, it was even better because Law & Order was on the television to keep me entertained while waiting.  No lie!

Before jury selection began, we sat through a 30-minute explanation of what a great honor it is to be selected as a juror.  The judge described how unique we are as Americans to be allowed to serve as jurors.  In most countries, citizens do not decide the fate of other citizens.  He described the jury selection process in Alabama, which is basically tied to being a registered voter.  Really?  Given all we know about voter suppression in Alabama, one can only assume the same factors affect the juror selection process.  This was a fact that was tough for this former Michigander to digest since Michigan uses driver’s license lists to generate juror pools.  

As I sat looking around the room, I wondered why I can’t, as a voter, be randomly selected to sit down with lawmakers for a week to express ways to improve society rather than sitting here waiting to be selected for a jury.  My registering to vote enables me to sit on a jury to decide another human’s fate but does not provide me with the random chance to meet with the people for whom I voted?  Honestly, I would rather sit down with one of my elected officials for one week.  Nevertheless, I suppose jury service is important even if that means sitting and waiting.

Since I spent hours waiting, I began to meditate on the process for influencing elected officials to create and implement policies.  At times it can seem like citizens don’t have much input.  We can call, write, or email our representatives but that always seems so impersonal.  Layers of bureaucracy obscure the tangible results of those efforts.  If we want to occupy the same space as a candidate, there are town halls and debates but often those feel staged, lacking a real human connection between you and the candidate or elected official.

So where does that leave the average American who wants to be more involved?  Advocacy is one of the key tools to ensure the laws our elected officials pass and the ways in which they spend our collective money are more representative of what we want as a people.  Beyond simply contacting elected officials, an individual can advocate for their opinion by signing petitions, funding advocacy groups, and constantly pursuing information to stay educated about a variety of topics that face society.  Advocating can lead to policies that mold society into something that is more reflective of what the majority of people would like to see.

On the upside, jury duty begrudgingly provided me with needed time and space away from the daily grind to think my own role in influencing laws and policies. I also began to wonder what was on the mind of others. So, in the absence of a random lottery system that grants me access to my elected officials, here are some areas of health policy that seem quite timely:

What are you doing?  Let us know; we would love to hear from you.