Schmookler: All Americans’ Patriotic Duty: Be Good Jurors

Our nation has entered a legal process of great import. In the balance are the integrity of our political and constitutional processes, the wielding of the powers of the presidency, and the unity or disunity of the nation.

More than in any other legal process, the role of the American people is of paramount importance. Although it is our elected representatives who will vote to impeach or not, and then perhaps to convict or not, it is the American public that will determine whether the process — concerning the possible impeachment and removal of President Donald Trump — heals or wounds the nation.

For all of our sakes, we should all wish for the American people to be as united as possible in supporting the outcome — whichever way it goes.

In an important sense, therefore, the American people are the jury here. And the health of the nation requires that we citizens now perform well the job of a juror. A good juror: hears and judges well the evidence; assesses the credibility of the witnesses; and judges rightly whether the conduct shown warrants conviction or acquittal.

Ideally, every American will strive to make these judgments on an objective basis — to judge the same regardless of party allegiance. Because the well-being of America will depend on how widespread is our citizens’ agreement on what the facts and the Constitution show about whether offenses worthy of impeachment have been committed, striving for that kind of impartiality is our patriotic duty.

Every patriotic American, therefore, has an obligation

• to attend carefully to what is shown in the impeachment process;

• to assess well the character and motivation of the witnesses telling their stories; and

• to judge soundly whether or not the conduct disclosed calls for something so solemn as the removal of a President.

I will be following my own advice, doing my best to be the kind of juror our nation needs at this difficult moment.

But, indeed, I’ve already been working hard at that job, studying the evidence that’s already publicly available, assessing the character and credibility of various witnesses, weighing the import of various issues in terms of protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States.

We will see what else the proceedings in Congress show to the nation.

But based on what I’ve seen so far, I would venture that — when it comes to the duty we all have to be good jurors — the big challenge will be faced by the Trump supporter who is patriotic and honest enough to want to fulfill their role as a “good juror.” I would predict that such people will find themselves in the position of that famous juror in the 2018 trial of former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

You may recall that juror — a woman named Paula Duncan, who was a strong Trump supporter — who said after the trial, “I did not want Paul Manafort to be guilty, but he was, and no one's above the law.” She was driven to that conclusion, she said, because “the evidence was overwhelming.”

Of course, Ms. Duncan served on an actual jury, and was required to sit in an actual courtroom and hear all the evidence that drove her to that unwelcome conclusion. We citizens are jurors in a less formal sense, and can easily escape our responsibilities.

As the House of Representatives decides whether to impeach, it is only informally as though we in the public are members of a grand jury, deciding whether to support bringing a bill of indictment against a President for the conduct we conclude that he has engaged in.

Then, if that “bill of indictment” (i.e. “Articles of Impeachment”) is brought, and therefore the matter goes to the Senate for trial, we in the public will informally be members of a trial jury, deciding whether the President is guilty of the charges brought against him, and, if so, whether that guilt is of a nature and a magnitude that call for the jury to convict (i.e. to remove him from office).

Because our role as jurors — vital though it is — is entirely informal, there’s nothing to stop anyone from simply turning away from questions of fact and of the Constitution, and taking the position their political preferences dictate.

Nothing, that is, but the kind of integrity and sense of responsibility shown by that juror in the trial of Paul Manafort — the juror who let the “overwhelming” weight of the facts, and her respect for the fundamental American concept that “no one is above the law” govern her conclusions.

Andy Schmookler, a prize-winning author whose works can be found at www.ABetterHumanStory.org, is a columnist for The News Virginian.

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