SACRAMENTO -- Legislation approved by the Assembly on Thursday would make California the first state to allow non-citizens to serve on juries as long as they are in the country legally.
The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), has two goals with his proposal -- helping immigrants integrate into American society and ensuring there are enough eligible people to serve on juries.
The Assembly approved the bill (AB 1401) by a vote of 45-26, with Republicans providing most of the no votes. The proposal still needs to go before the state Senate before it can head to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk for his signature or veto.
Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside) said the bill is not fair to either non-citizens or the defendants whose fates they could end up deciding.
Resident aliens may not have sought the responsibility of being an American citizen, he said. And Chavez said it's not right for defendants to be judged by jurors who “might not have the same cultural experience.”
An analysis in support of the bill emphasizes the possibility of helping immigrants integrate.
"Jury service is understood to be a democratizing force and a societal obligation," it says.
The analysis also cites Alexis de Tocqueville, the French historian known for his writings on American society, who praised the role of juries.
"Juries, especially civil juries, instill some of the habits of the judicial mind into every citizen, and just those habits are the very best way of preparing people to be free," he wrote.