Traffic court

A line forms outside traffic court in Los Angeles. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times / June 11, 2013)

Editorial writers have to state a position and back it up in just a few hundred words. Gov. Jerry Brown would make a pretty good editorial writer, as he demonstrated with Monday's veto message of a bill that would have extended jury duty to noncitizens.

"Jury service, like voting, is quintessentially a prerogative and responsibility of citizenship," Brown wrote. "This bill would permit lawful permanent residents who are not citizens to serve on a jury. I don't think that's right."

The Times used a few more words than that in April to urge the Legislature to reject the bill.

"Jury service is not burdensome drudge work imposed by an overbearing government on an unwilling citizenry," the editorial page wrote. "Nor is it a favor that citizens do for their courts. To the contrary, it is a citizen's chief means of oversight on the judicial branch, allowing him or her not merely to help rule on the facts of a particular case but to keep tabs on the judge, the prosecutors, the public defenders and the court system itself. It's the place where citizens observe firsthand the effect of court budget cuts."

There was a follow-up Opinion L.A. post in August when the Legislature approved the bill and sent it to Brown.

The bill was almost immediately picked up by many in the blogosphere and elsewhere as a proposal to grant the power to serve on juries to people who entered the country without authorization. You can still find some of them on the Web, like this one with accurate news but a more provocative, and blatantly false, headline.

AB 1401 would have applied to permanent residents -- holders of "green cards." The author, Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), said it would make it more likely for people in court in this immigrant-rich state to be heard by a jury of their peers.

Still, the Times argued that jury duty was one of those things that should be reserved to citizens.

Besides, the constitutional guarantee of a jury of one's peers referred to people in the same peer group, as we understand the term today, but in the same class in the social hierarchy. There should indeed be an effort to make sure the jury pool is wide as well as deep, with people from all social classes and walks of life being called to serve. But there are special duties and privileges that go with citizenship, and jury service is one -- whether you consider it a duty or a privilege.

Of course, we could have had a simpler reaction to noncitizens serving on juries:

We don't think that's right.

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