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Mature Enough to Disobey: Jurors, Women, and Radical Enfranchisement in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America

Mature Enough to Disobey: Jurors, Women, and Radical Enfranchisement in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America

Chapter:
(p.21) One Mature Enough to Disobey: Jurors, Women, and Radical Enfranchisement in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America
Source:
Radical Enfranchisement in the Jury Room and Public Life
Author(s):
Sonali Chakravarti
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226654324.003.0002

Any argument celebrating the distinctive legal and political role American juries play evokes a reference to Tocqueville’s observations during his 1831 trip. While many have pointed to Tocqueville’s admiration of the jury system as a schoolhouse for civic participation, I argue that Tocqueville sets up, but forgoes, the opportunity to make jurors empowered enough to counter the ills of democracy he also enumerates. His sense of moderation regarding the republican virtue of participation and his admiration for aristocratic leadership make it impossible for him to cultivate the ideal of jurors as radically enfranchised citizens, meaning those who have an understanding of the weight and expectations of legal judgment but are also able to challenge the authority of the law in certain instances, such as via jury nullification (the undisclosed power a jury has to find a defendant not guilty because they find the law itself objectionable).

Keywords:   Alexis deTocqueville, jury, women, juror, civic participation

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