Radical Enfranchisement in the Jury Room and Public Life

Radical Enfranchisement in the Jury Room and Public Life

Sonali Chakravarti

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780226654157

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Enfranchisement, referring to the right to vote and to serve on a jury, is understood as the bedrock of civic participation but is not often thought of as particularly radical, a term saved for more revolutionary or rebellious acts directed outside of formal institutions. The meaning of radical enfranchisement developed in this book is activated by precisely this tension: jurors who have an orientation of radical enfranchisement hold institutional power, but they are aware that this does not imply obedience, technocratic applications of the law, or an affirmation of dogmatic prejudices, and this leads to a type of freedom often not found for ordinary people in political life. Radical enfranchisement is a different type of power that cultivates citizens who are well-versed in their legal stature, able to scrutinize their own biases, and emboldened by the critical role they play in questions of punishment. The civic education that precedes the radical enfranchisement of jurors is a metacognitive endeavor, demanding that jurors pay attention to how they make decisions and not just the verdicts themselves. The argument for radical enfranchisement begins with an examination of how the political maturity of jurors within the criminal justice system is overlooked by one of its greatest proponents, Alexis de Tocqueville, at great cost to his analysis of democratic innovations. Then the project focuses on three key moments during the trial, each taken up in a chapter, where a change in the civic education of jurors can have a dramatic impact on the process.