Jury Duty, Moral Horror, Gratitude, and a Promissory Note, All in a Single Post

So I get back from ten consecutive weeks of traveling, and now, as the fall semester is about to start, I have jury duty. I don’t yet know whether I’ll be picked for a trial (and I probably couldn’t discuss it even if I was), but I have been spending some quality time in the juror assembly area of Essex Courthouse,

the largest and busiest trial court in New Jersey with a complement of approximately 60 judges and about 860 staff. The Superior Court of New Jersey serving the 22 municipalities of Essex Vicinage is located in downtown Newark in five separate buildings. We serve the 783,969 citizens of Essex County living in 22 municipalities in an area of 127.44 square miles.

As I write this, I suddenly realize to my horror that I left my juror badge in my pants pocket. I guess the horror arises more specifically from the realization that my pants are currently in the washing machine, and that the washing machine has been running now for about fifteen minutes. A mere accident, or a subconscious expression of contempt of court? You be the judge. I take it that this is what Robert Nozick had in mind when he coined the phrase “catastrophic moral horror” (Anarchy, State, and Utopia, p. 30).

Anyway, all of that means that I’ll be a little slow in blogging and commenting for the next week or so (maybe longer), as I get up to speed on various errands, go to prison for defacing government property, etc. I do have things to say about David Potts’s last three posts (on psychology, Aristotle, and Rousseau), but just haven’t gotten around to saying them. I also have things to say about Palestine, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and the similarities and differences between them–but haven’t gotten around to saying that, either (and haven’t quite digested everything I saw).

My concussion seems better–thanks for asking–but every now and then I find myself doing odd things, like washing my juror badge, so I’m not sure where things stand, medically speaking. I guess I’ll pencil in seeing a doctor at some point, assuming all my pencils aren’t currently in the laundry.

I accumulated a bunch of debts over the course of the summer that I wanted to acknowledge in a public way:

Jerusalem, Abu Dis, Tekoa, and Gush Etzion: I couldn’t have done the Palestine trip without the help of Sinan Abu Shanab and Rawan Dajani in the PR Department at Al Quds University (AQU). I wouldn’t have gone to Palestine at all had I not been invited by Dr. Sari Nusseibeh and Dr. Said Zeedani from AQU’s Philosophy Department. I couldn’t have taught my political philosophy class at AQU (or graded any of the assignments) without the help of my translator Hadi Abu Hilweh, who also managed to maintain an atmosphere of near-constant hilarity for the duration of the time we spent together (“Take a look at this. I need someone to take a look at this”). Every conversation I had with Tarek Hardan led me to a major realization of one sort or another–and we had lots of conversations, so that adds up to a lot of realizations. I’m grateful as well to Shukri Abid, Arnan Bashir, Maha Samman, Awad Mansour, Suhair Hindiyeh, Amer al Badan, and Sara Hughes for the valuable conversations we had, and all the help they directed my way.

Mason, Michigan: A big thank you to the Herricks–Shirley, Charlie, but above all Kate–for a great time in Mason, including but not limited to the trip to the Sparrow Hospital ER in Lansing. The time I spent at the Ingham County Fair certainly gave new meaning to the terms “headbanging” and “heavy metal.” I’m tempted to call it an “unforgettable experience,” but let’s hold off on that until the clinical findings are in.

Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota: Finally, thanks to Karin Eagle, Sabrina King, Mario, Ruby, and above all Britt Long for helping me navigate the res. I’m hoping to blog on the Lakota 57 case as well as the Alex White Plume industrial hemp dispute (among other topics) when I get the chance.

I’ve put a bunch of new photos in the header–Israel, Palestine, Michigan, South Dakota–and weeded out some of the lamer photos I’d previously uploaded. Enjoy. More to come.

Postscript, August 18, 2015: Well, for better or worse, I made it to the second day of my jury service, and wasn’t selected to serve on a trial. So I’ve been dismissed for the next three years, $10 richer (taxable income, of course), and enriched by my (coerced) immersion in the democratic legal process. While I was killing time in the Jury Assembly Room, I tried to memorize a poem in praise of the experience of jury duty that happened to be framed on the wall, written by a local eighth grader. Though based on a clever and eminently memorable rhyme involving the words “awe” and “law,” I’m afraid I’ve forgotten the rest. These memories lapses are getting alarming. I’m curious what the kid will think of jury duty once he actually has to serve.

While I have my problems with the institution of jury service, I have to say that, contrary to all stereotypes about government employees, the folks at the Essex County Vicinage–from the jury selection judge to the floor managers to the cafeteria workers–were a real pleasure to deal with. They were responsive, attentive, courteous, and all had a great sense of humor. Though I realize that there’s real data behind the anti-government stereotype, the fact of the matter is that my personal experience with government employees has been as mixed as my experience with people in the private sector. I’ve had good and bad experiences in both sectors. But I have nothing but praise for the judiciary in Newark.

Some interesting reading on juries that I happened to notice while “serving” (yes, legally speaking, showing up is equivalent to serving, even if you just sit around for two days): A long article from Sunday’s New York Times on race-based jury selection; an old rant of mine on the subject; Akhil Reed Amar’s Ten Suggested Jury Reforms; and a pointless article on Donald Trump’s jury service (“I look forward to it…I feel good”…what an asshole).

Personal Celebrity Encounter: I happened to stand next to ex-governor James McGreevey at the security checkpoint to get into the building that houses the criminal court.  I don’t know what he was doing there, but he works with prison inmates, so that might explain it.

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