Over the Hill

Citizenship should be requirement to serve on juries

Special to The TribuneMay 2, 2013 

Phil Dirkx

Last week the California Assembly voted 45-25 to allow noncitizen immigrants to serve on juries. That surprised me. I hadn’t seen any marching crowds of noncitizen immigrants demanding to be jurors.

I guess those 45 Assembly members were just trying to woo minority-group voters. Fortunately this ill-advised bill, AB 1401, won’t become law until it’s approved by the state Senate and signed by the governor. Our assemblyman, Katcho Achadjian, voted against it.

Assembly Speaker John A. Perez reproved Republicans who criticized the bill. He said, “Some people hear about something new for a group of immigrants and immediately think there must be something wrong.”

Perez sounds like he wants us to believe that jury eligibility is a pro- or anti-immigrant issue. But it’s no such thing, because immigrants can already serve on juries. All they have to do is become citizens. And becoming a citizen isn’t that hard. Heck, the younger Boston bombing suspect became a naturalized citizen last year.

One of the authors of this bill, Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo of Watsonville, said citizenship isn’t required of many other court personnel including judges. That just tells me that he authored the wrong bill. Instead of allowing noncitizens to be jurors, he should have required judges to be citizens.

I am not anti-immigrant. I am the grandson of four immigrants. I believe America is an immigrant nation. But I also believe in the value of citizenship and juries.

When an immigrant becomes a naturalized citizen he or she benefits and so does America. It usually means the immigrant wants to join in and become one of us rather than just be a resident of our territory.

And one of the duties of United States citizenship is the obligation to serve as a juror when summoned. Being a juror is an honor and a privilege. It’s the only time a private citizen is invested with real government power and authority.

Other officials and judges are elected or appointed, but jurors are selected at random from the people at large to represent the views of the people. Jurors should understand American government and traditions.

Politicians shouldn’t play politics with jury rules. The state Senate should reject this change in jury eligibility. Our senator is Bill Monning. His address is State Capitol, Room 4066, Sacramento CA 95814.

If the Senate fails to reject this bill, Gov. Brown should veto it. If he doesn’t, we the people will have to organize a referendum election to kill the bill.

Phil Dirkx has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column is published weekly. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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