Should These Men Be Prevented From Serving on Juries?

confederate

Update: Leave it to Ta-Nehisi Coates to remind us of just how silly this project actually is.

Anti-Neo-Confederate crusader Edward Sebesta is best known for his push to petition President Obama to cease sending a wreath to the Confederate memorial at Arlington as well as his claim that the Museum of the Confederacy is mired in Lost Cause nostalgia.  Now Sebesta and Euan Hague are hoping to rid juries of racial bias by identifying Confederate/Lost Cause bias among potential jurors

This is a truly bizarre essay.  Don’t get me wrong, I applaud any attempt at ensuring fair trials for all Americans regardless of skin color, but this gets us nowhere.  First, Sebesta and Hague acknowledge that jurors can be asked directly whether they harbor racial bias or whether they are members of a white supremacist organization.  Apparently, this is not enough.  What we need to know, according to the authors, is where a potential juror stands in reference to their understanding of the Civil War and the Confederacy specifically.  Here are the questions they would ask:

  • Are you a member of the League of the South, Council of Conservative Citizens, Sons of Confederate Veterans, United Daughters of the Confederacy or any other pro-Confederate organization?
  • Do you identify with the Confederacy or the Union?
  • Do you think it is appropriate for public officials to praise Confederate leaders?
  • Do you think it is appropriate when states, counties, cities and other municipalities adopt Confederate symbols in their logos, flags, seals, or other symbols they might adopt?
  • Do you think it would have been better if the Confederacy had succeeded in seceding?
  • Do you display Confederate symbols such as flags, flag decals, bumper stickers, tattoos or other visual representations of the Confederacy.

Let me cut to the chase.  Given my response to these questions it looks like I should be prevented from sitting on a jury that will consider a case involving African Americans.

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23 thoughts on “Should These Men Be Prevented From Serving on Juries?

  1. Corey Meyer

    Kevin…by claiming that you would not be allowed to sit on juries based on those questions will break the mold that neo-confederates have placed you in.

    Reply
  2. Joe Fiffick

    I’m a Unionist reenactor for the last 13 years.I also do a civilian Abolitionist impression. I’ve met and argued with many neo-confederates in my day. So I am no fan of the neo-confederates. But they have all the rights to serve on the jury as anyone else who holds a racist or bigoted view. Black jurors let off OJ Simpson after the defense painted the LAPD as a bastion of white supremacy. Now should we prevent blacks from serving on juries? No. Everyone of us holds a bigoted view toward some group or individual but that should not prevent us from being in a pool of potential jurors. Part of the job of being a Lawyer is to pick a jury favorable to your case. It’s a messy process but it’s the system we got and it works most of the time.

    Reply
    1. Pat Young

      The Constitutional Right is not for a person to serve on a jury but for the defendant to have “a jury of his peers.” You have absolutely no right to serve on a particular jury.

      Reply
      1. Margaret D. Blough

        Andy-There is no right to be on a particular jury but a juror does have a constitutionally protected right not to be EXCLUDED from a jury for reasons that violate rights protected under the 14th Amendment. A third party (i.e., the defendant) can assert those rights even if they aren’t a member of the class discriminated against). Interesting question is whether Sebasta’s and Hague’s proposal would violate Article 1, Section 9, Clause 3′s prohibition against Bills of Attainder.

        Heck, even I, Yankee anti-secessionist to the core of my being, might fail Sebasta’s and Hague’s test.

        Reply
  3. Bruce Miller

    Kevin, I was intrigued by their suggestion because I’ve actually wondered if prosecutors in rape cases in states like Missouri and Indiana, hope of losing Republican nominees Todd “legitimate rape” Akin and Richard “some girls rape easy” Murdoch might not actually be worried about having Republican jurors. But I know very little about jury selection issues. And I’m sure most judges were would hesitant to give individuals a pass on jury duty because they participate in Civil War re-enactments, etc.

    But I’m curious which responses of yours to those questions that you think would by the criteria they suggest be considered evidence of racial bias against African-Americans. My answers to those questions would be: no; yes, the Union; no; no (although in real life that did succeed in seceding for a while); and, no.

    Reply
  4. Crandall Marsh

    I direct you to one paragraph of the American Judicature Society under Jury Challenge for cause: “Has life experiences from which bias can be inferred. For example, a member of the Ku Klux Klan would be challengeable for cause in a case where a black defendant is seeking redress under the Civil Rights Act.”
    Lawyers can, and do, ask just about anything they feel is important, of a prospective juror. (They can also use a peremptory challenge if they simply feel that the individual is not a good choice.) There is no rule against asking jurors if they have any racial bias, and following this up with questions such as Sebesta suggests. If fact if a lawyer did not believe the individual’s original statement, this would be common practice in investigating more deeply. The selection process involves a written questionnaire as well as oral questions. In this process any “life experience,’ including memberships in any group or organization, as well as personal beliefs, are very important in determining fitness to sit on a jury. Depending on the particular case, asking about membership in Confederate organizations, or personal beliefs about the confederacy, are valid questions to insure an impartial jury.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I don’t think anyone is denying that the personal backgrounds of potential jurors ought not to be questioned. My problem is with the questions that the authors pose. They tell us much more about the biases of Sebesta than they do about racial outlook.

      Reply
  5. Crandall Marsh

    Your reference to the article Ta-Nehisi Coates does not point out how silly this all is. He clearly points out that racism can exist in the “heart of a democratic society.” In this case, a well meaning individual who sincerely believes he is not racist. Why them would you not delve deep into an individual’s beliefs, his affiliations, and other aspects of his life that might shed light on what is deep down inside a potential juror’s heart? You pointed out that jurors can be asked directly if they have any racial bias. What if they sincerely believe that, but further questions, such as Sebesta suggests, might leave one with a different impression?

    If a lawyer, involved in a civil rights case, were to ask potential jurors the questions listed above, they certainly would not point to any bias (other than trying to assure their client received a fair and impartial trial) on their part. They would be doing what expected of them in such a case. But somehow the fact that Sebesta suggests this line of questioning, makes him biased? You say that potential jurors backgrounds should be checked, but that these questions somehow go too far? Any questions reveal the mind set or the personal beliefs of a potential juror are valid.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I am not sure where the disagreement lies between the two of us. I agree that probing questions ought to be asked of potential jurors to ensure a fair trial. I just don’t believe these are it or even close to what a properly conceived question would look like. It’s not even clear that Sebesta has ever had a serious discussion with a member of the SCV or UDC. And this is the same guy who wrote a 4-part review of the Museum of the Confederacy without ever visiting the institution and without conducting a single interview. Sebesta is all about Sebesta and nothing more.

      Reply
  6. Nathan Towne

    I am also growing quite tired of Ed Sebesta. He seems far more interested in self promotion to me than anything else. Furthermore, his advocacy strains facts and reason which is really only counterproductive.

    Nathan Towne

    Reply

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