In most jurisdictions a simple matter such as changing the conditions for jury service can be made easily at the local level. In the nation's capital, however, because the responsibilities of local and federal courts sometimes overlap, Congress has to authorize many kinds of judicial changes, even if they are designed only to allow us to adopt a reform that has worked well in other communities and has been approved, after a pilot study, by judges here. Last week, the House of Representatives passed such a measure that will be of great interest to prospective jurors in this city. It should move quickly through the Senate.
The objective is to make jury service easier and more democratic by allowing fewer exemptions, while at the same time diminishing the burden to the citizen by reducing the length of service required. The shorthand phrase for the reform is "one-day, one-trial," for prospective jurors, under the new system, would have to sit only for a single day or a single trial. In order to make this change, the House-passed bill would separate the jury- selection process of the Superior Court from that of the U.S. District Court.
The Justice Department opposed this legislation, urging that Congress wait until these jury reforms can be adopted throughout the federal system, so that the creation of two separate mechanisms in the District would be unnecessary. Chief Judge Aubrey Robinson of the U.S. District Court, however, sees no such problem and believes that the federal and local courts can cooperate in running separate jury-selection systems.
The important thing for citizens is to make jury service less burdensome. If fewer people had exemptions from service -- they are now available to many categories of citizens from policemen and ministers to dentists and mothers -- everyone would have a shorter obligation that did not seriously disrupt work and family responsibilities. Of equal importance, the courts would have the services of a broader, more representative cross section of the public. One-day, one-trial makes sense, and the courts here should be allowed to implement the reform whether or not the federal courts are ready to go along.