A message from Thomas Jefferson.
During the 1992 presidential campaign, James Carville, campaign manager for Bill Clinton, kept famously reminding his boss, “It’s the economy stupid!”, whenever he observed the verbose candidate veering “off message” and talking about anything that was not important to achieving victory. Focusing on the economy obviously worked for Bill Clinton in that campaign.
Since that 1992 campaign the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid” or some derivative of it like “It’s the war, stupid”, “It’s the __ blank__, stupid” has become commonly used when the writer or speaker wanted to call attention to what he considered to be the key to an issue – especially the key to victory in some campaign.
However, is the economy really the most important and fundamental factor underpinning our nation? Is there something far more fundamental that will determine whether or not the economy is healthy?
For example, can bloated and abusive government bureaucrats destroy the economic engine of the nation? Can you sustain a good economy when you have nothing to easily and naturally stop government from growing too big, taxing, spending and “regulating” too much and generally oppressing commerce, industry and eventually destroying the economy and freedom itself?
Let’s consider the words of a man with far more wisdom than the politicians, pundits and political activists of today:
In 1789, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to Thomas Paine:
“I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by men, by which the government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”
Jefferson saw trial by jury as the greatest power that the people have, and the only way the people had to personally and directly prevent government employees from flagrantly ignoring constitutional restraints and oppressing the people with excessive and often ridiculous laws and regulations (like we live under today).
Trial by jury, with its inherent right and power of the jurors to “veto” or “nullify” bad laws, is the common man’s “peaceful eraser” of legislated and regulated stupidity, theft and tyranny.
From the beginning of trial by jury, most judges have coveted the jury’s awesome power to veto bad laws. In the 19th century, because of various excuses, more and more judges succumbed to temptation and usurped the jury’s power to nullify bad laws by concealment and deception. A debate on these abuses raged in the judiciary in the mid to late 19th century. Then in a bitter 1894 U.S. Supreme Court split decision, (Sparf and Hansen vs. U.S.), criminal trial judges were given a green light to no longer tell jurors of their inherent power to judge the law itself in any criminal trial. The dissenting opinion stated in part:
“we often hear in conversation doctrines advanced for law, which, if true, would render juries a mere ostentation and pageantry, and the court absolute judges of law and fact”
And this is precisely what the judges have done to the jury since 1895. If a jury can be successfully tricked by the judge; if the jury does not otherwise understand its true and historic rights, powers and duties, it is not a true jury at all. It could be called twelve stage props or twelve puppets controlled by a lawyer in a black robe, but a true jury it definitely is not. It is a sham, a “mere ostentation and pageantry” and will remain so until someone (like you) tells jurors about their rights, powers and duties – and about the judges’ agenda and tactics that destroy self-government itself.
Thus in America today we have temporarily forgotten true trial by jury; we have misplaced Jefferson’s “anchor” that holds government in check.
It is of greater importance to notice what Jefferson did not say was the “only anchor” holding government subservient to the constitution.
He did not say that the “only anchor” was no national bank or no fiat (paper) money, although Jefferson is probably best remembered as being strongly opposed to both of these. He also did not say that private ownership of guns was the “only anchor”, although he was eloquent in advocating citizen ownership and regular use of firearms. He also did not say that the “only anchor” was no deficit spending, no national debt, or prayer in schools, or separation of church and state, or freedom of religion, or freedom of speech and of the press, etc.
And if Jefferson were here today, would he say that the “only anchor” is any of the modern political issues that people argue about today?
If Thomas Jefferson were here today, and saw a nation where people complain, petition and fight (and usually lose) incessant defensive battles with a corrupt and unresponsive government; saw a nation where the government servants have often become our masters; saw a nation where the citizen’s most powerful and easily available tool to control government has been gradually concealed and almost hidden by judges; saw a nation where the people impotently complain and whine about government and feel resentful, frustrated and cynical, while the most powerful and available solution we have ever had lies dormant and almost forgotten, perhaps Thomas Jefferson would raise his voice and shout to all of America:
“IT’S THE JURY, STUPID!”
Thomas Jefferson would see instantly what most people don’t yet realize: that our twentieth-century slide into big government, bad laws, over-regulation of everything and everybody; lives dominated by bureaucratic bullies and government parasites started with the loss of true trial by educated and empowered jury. Almost all of the freedom we have lost and nearly every foolish politician’s scheme we now live under has come about since that infamous 1894 Supreme Court decision.
Jefferson knew that as voters, we are virtually powerless to personally and directly change anything about our government. (He might say: Wake up, Pay Attention – changing politicians does not change the government!) As voters we can only try to elect good politicians and hope they will have the courage to do the right things.
But as jurors we can personally, directly and immediately reduce the abuses and the power of government by refusing to enforce unnecessary and abusive laws and regulations. And fairly quickly even the size and the expense of government will be reduced because of Jury Nullifications.
Government wields all usurped power, intimidates and controls people by one and only one means: by enforcing bad laws.
If bad government cannot enforce its bad laws, then bad government will die – killed off by “We the People” as jurors stomping it out – one bad law at a time.
Every single jury nullification of any bad law automatically takes an increment of stolen power away from government. Sometimes the increments are small, but history records that sometimes the “increments” are massive and beneficially change the course of history. (See The History of Jury Nullification )
Even in small increments repeated nullifications tend to cascade and gain momentum and will eventually kill laws and put entire government agencies out of business. Remember a government agency has no power and no reason to exist if all or even most of its laws and regulations have been rendered impotent - killed by jury nullifications.
All power lost by government due to jury nullifications automatically flows back into the hands of the people, where it rightfully belongs. The people can use their ever increasing power to bring about other related or even unrelated reforms in government. Routine and numerous jury nullifications are the first step that must happen before our bloated and power abusing government can be brought back under the control of the people.
Jury nullifications stun, rebuke, and demoralize formerly arrogant politicians, bureaucrats, police and judges. A jury nullification is a very unpleasant emotional and psychological experience for abusive government employees to experience. Jury nullifications cause better behavior in government employees. Enough jury nullifications drive out of government employment the worst kinds of people. Thus jury nullifications create the conditions where honest and humble public servants can rise to positions of influence in government.
Jury nullifications give abusive bureaucrats and judges a “public spanking”, as they bring joy and hope to long-suffering citizens. Jury nullifications actually heal citizenship, filling people who had cynically withdrawn from public affairs and activism with a sense of hope and empowerment. If you have been looking for a way to rein in government, you have found it. Compared to a “jury revolution” conventional (but popular) ideas such as term limits, tax limits, replacing politicians, writing letters to congress, etc. are fatally ineffective and even impotent.
We are learning the hard way that Jefferson was right. A dangerous error was committed when Americans passively and lazily allowed the jury’s power to be concealed by judges and essentially lost for so long. The solution is self-evident and happily, it is easily achieved. Restoring true trial by jury does not require any legislation. It does not require a single new law! For we never really lost the power to nullify bad laws; we just believed judges when they misled us. We just trusted them when they were committing the crimes of conspiracy and jury tampering right in open court!
Restoring the practice of juries consistently nullifying all bad laws merely requires a critical mass or critical percent of the registered voters or the “jury pool” to clearly understand jury nullification and how to successfully use it. Once a critical percent of the people understand the jury’s power and the tactics that judges use to conceal that power, it will become impossible for judges to manipulate and control jurors. It will also become impossible for freedom stealing and unpopular “laws” to ever be enforced again at jury trials. This will cause a revolution in government and in the balance of power between the people and the bureaucrats. And this will lead directly to the restoration of the Citizen Controlled Grand Jury. The Grand Jury is truly the nemesis of bad government being an “offensive weapon” that can investigate suspected politicians, bureaucrats and even judges and indict them, bringing them to trial. The grand jury was hijacked and stolen from the people by statutes in the nineteenth century. Therefore, laws will have to be passed (or repealed) to restore the Grand Jury back to the control of the grand jurors themselves. Making the restoration of the true Grand Jury the “second stage” of The Jury Revolution.
The jury is truly the Achilles’ heel of bad and abusive government, because it is where the people so clearly have superior power over any government employee or agency. But this is true only if you and enough other people understand that power and how to competently use it.
“If you don’t understand your power and how to use it, then you don’t (really) have it.”
Will you join with the Jury Education movement and help create the Jury Revolution? Will you commit to doing this until your state has achieved the needed critical mass of educated and confident jurors? Other political and social concerns and goals that you may have and other organizations that you may belong to will all be greatly benefited by the restoration of true trial by jury and the true citizen grand jury. Government will be rendered weaker and the people will be made stronger and happier. The Jury Revolution will help to heal the psychological afflictions of fear of government, cynicism, apathy, withdrawal, cowardice, etc.
“The jury which is the most energetic means of making the people rule, is also the most effective means of teaching it to rule”
Alexis de Tocqueville – Democracy in America
Please reflect on the words of de Tocqueville. When fully understood and assimilated, the knowledge of one’s specific power and duty as a juror is eventually generalized into an understanding of one’s power and duty as a citizen. Deeply understanding our power as a juror actually transforms us as citizens. We will remember and understand that not just on jury duty are we superior to government; but every day we are the “boss” and we have a duty to act like it. Remember, people only want to participate when they have power or the ability to make a difference. People do not like to participate when they are unskilled and impotent. This is clearly true in sports, for instance. Everyone understands this. But it is just as true in the arena of citizenship and activism. The theft of real trial by jury is a major reason for citizen apathy and laziness. When you have no power you do not want to participate. Our power as voters is insignificant compared to our power to nullify bad laws on a trial jury or indict criminals on the grand jury. Judges and lawyers understand this; that is why they stole our juries. We can take our juries back anytime we stand up and do it.
When people understand how powerful the jury is; when they read about hated laws and bureaucrats being “struck down” by juries, they will feel more confident and powerful as citizens. This transformation in the people’s confidence and attitude toward citizenship will bring a boon of volunteers to all worthy citizen organizations and movements. And it will obviously make the work of all citizen organizations working on government reform and related issues much easier to accomplish.
Therefore, a major prerequisite to restoring America to the greatness that was, and still is, her destiny, is to re-establish true trial by educated jury, the “anchor” of Thomas Jefferson.
Copyright ©, 1994-2008, Dwight M. Callaway
Permission is given by the author to quote, copy, print or post this article, with attribution and contact information of the author. Dwight M. Callaway dwightcallaway (at) yahoo.com 208-968-3488. Comments and questions are welcomed.
For a longer and more comprehensive description of the Jury Revolution please read THE JURY REVOLUTION: Why Jury Nullifications Will Transform America
And you may also find the above essay at this ALTERNATE LOCATION
MORE ARTICLES ABOUT JURY NULLIFICATION
Justice Often Served By Jury Nullication — Radley Balko
JURY NULLIFICATION And The Rule Of Law Longer Article
The Wire’s War On the Drug War - TIME — Article about HBO’s “The Wire”
More jury nullification quotes are available at:
NEXT WEEK: How YOU Can Eradicate Gun Control Laws
Copyright ©, 1994-2008, Dwight M. Callaway