All sides support jury rights idea

Dailies say 'conservative groups' behind concept, but ranks of supporters diverse

by David Kopel

Rocky Mountain News,
Oct. 11, 2003

What do the following have in common: The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws; the South Carolina NAACP; Americans for Safe Access (a pro-medical marijuana group); the Marijuana Party of Florida; the California and Florida Green Parties; Nevada COYOTE (a prostitute's rights group); Democratic Gov. Bob Holden of Missouri; former Democratic Gov. of Missouri Mel Carnahan; former Kansas Gov. Joan Finney (a Democrat and the state's first female governor); and Ed Rendell, the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania?

According to the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post, they're all "conservatives."

The week before last, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) produced a media kerfuffle by announcing that it is outraged that Jefferson County Treasurer Mark Paschall is handing out, at his own expense, booklets about jury rights. My Independence Institute colleague Fred Holden helped Paschall pay for the booklets.

The booklets explain the traditional Anglo-American legal principle that jurors have the right and the duty to acquit a defendant if they conscientiously believe that the prosecution is unjust.

The concept of jury rights is supposedly the work of "conservative groups," the papers repeatedly told readers. (Post Oct. 1 and 2; News Oct. 2).

But in fact, the Fully Informed Jury Association ( ) draws support from all over the political spectrum. Some groups which are often considered conservative, such as Gun Owners of America and U.S. Term Limits, do support jury rights, but so do plenty of liberals - including the folks listed in the first paragraph. All the groups have endorsed FIJA, and all the governors listed signed a FIJA-written proclamation declaring Sept. 5 to be Jury Rights Day.

The Post was so upset that it wrote an editorial calling for Paschall's recall, and decrying "the shameful, blood-stained place jury nullification holds in American history," for "jury nullification was the mechanism by which Ku Klux Klansmen and other bigots escaped justice when they murdered African-Americans." That's a misleadingly narrow view of American history, for jury nullification was also frequently used by northern juries to free people who had violated the Fugitive Slave Act. Jury rights has also led to the acquittal of religious and political dissidents such as the Quaker William Penn, which is why Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were among the many Founders who ardently supported jury rights.

Today, jury nullification occurs frequently in drug trials - a fact you'd never know from reading the news articles or the Post editorial. The News did make this point editorially, as did Post columnist Reggie Rivers.

Other than the ADL, there aren't many groups that can generate so many newspaper articles just by announcing that they're outraged about somebody.

The ADL has a right to claim that only a dangerous "extremist" would believe that someone should follow God's law when it conflicts with man-made law. (Such "extremists" would include the Founding Fathers, dozens of heroes from the Jewish Bible, and the Maccabees - the Jewish militia that led the successful war against the Syrian tyrants which is celebrated at Hanukkah.) But the newspapers shouldn't be so ready to publicize such incendiary and unfair claims - especially in light of the fact that the ADL recently lost a $10 million libel suit after the ADL made, and the local papers credulously repeated, false charges that an Evergreen couple was carrying out anti-Semitic harassment of their Jewish neighbors.

According to Newsweek's latest poll, only two Democratic presidential candidates are doing worse than Bob Graham, who dropped out of the race last week. When Dennis Kucinich came to Denver, the Post called him "the darkest of dark horses" and "the longest of long shots." The crowd of 150 supporters was described as "sparse" (Sept. 28).

Carol Moseley Braun is also on the bottom rung of the polls, and badly lags Kucinich in cash-on-hand and organization. When Braun came to Colorado, Post coverage was entirely positive, omitting any mention of her campaign woes (Oct. 5).

The News was even worse, covering both appearances only with tiny items in its Extra! and The Stump "channel" features, rather than full-sized articles.

A front-page Sunday story in the Post(Sept. 28) reported that Gov. Bill Owens' chief of staff, Roy Palmer, has received thousands of dollars of free sports tickets from a company doing business with the state. The gifts were legal and were properly disclosed pursuant to an executive order that Owens promulgated in 1999.

A Post editorial (Oct. 5) belatedly acknowledged a very important fact that should have been included in the front-page article: Palmer doesn't administer state contracts, and firewalls prevent him from influencing contracts. Yet the Post editorial still insisted that the gifts create "the appearance of impropriety." Actually, that appearance was created mostly by the Post.

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