Contrary to the support of the Democrat-dominated legislature of California for a bill that would have permitted non-US citizens to serve jury duty, Gov. Jerry Brown has wielded his veto power to kill the proposed legislation.
The bill was sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski of Fremont, who wanted to include lawful immigrants in the civic process. Weickowski had earlier stated that legal immigrants benefit from the same laws as do citizens, and should therefore “share in the obligation to do jury duty, just as they serve in our courts, schools, police departments and armed forces.”
In vetoing the bill, Gov. Brown took the opposite view and announced his belief that “Jury service, like voting, is quintessentially a prerogative and responsibility of citizenship.”
Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, of Oceanside, supported Gov. Brown’s veto. In a statement, Chavez indicated that California juries have a more than adequate pool of potential jurors who are US citizens, and that “The debate over this bill attempted to create a social wedge in our communities over our justice system. The phrase ‘jury of your peers’ still means something in our criminal justice system.”
California would have been the first state to allow non-citizens to serve on juries. California has 3.5 legal permanent residents who are not US citizens.
Despite his veto of this most recent bill, Gov. Brown has demonstrated his support for the rights of immigrants who reside in the state that he leads. For example, Gov. Brown signed into law legislation to allow illegal immigrants to legally acquire driver’s licenses and under the Trust Act has now made it illegal for local law enforcement to transfer detained immigrants to federal authorities in the absence of certain serious crimes.
The proposal to allow noncitizens to serve jury duty raised interesting legal questions, with experts and citizens weighing in on both sides of the issue. The Sacramento Bee has questioned whether legal immigrants would be disincentivized to pursue citizenship if all the rights and benefits thereof are already made available to noncitizens. However, many of the bill’s supporters believed that allowing noncitizen jury service would better conform to the law by potentially providing a jury of noncitizen peers for cases involving immigrants.
Associations that have traditionally pushed for immigrants’ rights are not raising an outcry over the vetoing of the bill and are instead focusing on the positive legislation that has passed into law. Although Gov. Brown’s veto could be overridden with a two-thirds vote in both the California State Assembly and the California State Senate, Assemblyman Wieckowski has indicated that he will not attempt to gather momentum for an override but instead plans to introduce similar legislation in next year’s session.
As the largest court system in the world, changes to the California judicial system can be a bellwether for changes elsewhere. Legal professionals throughout the US will likely continue to track legislation impacting the rights and responsibilities of immigrants in California as it unfolds.