Juries have been at the center of some of the most emotionally charged moments of political life. At the same time, their capacity for legitimate decision making has been under scrutiny, because of events like the acquittal of George Zimmerman by a Florida jury for the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the decisions of several grand juries not to indict police officers for the killing of unarmed black men. Meanwhile, the overall use of juries has also declined in recent years, with most cases settled or resolved by plea bargain.
With Radical Enfranchisement in the Jury Room and Public Life, Sonali Chakravarti offers a full-throated defense of juries as a democratic institution. She argues that juries provide an important site for democratic action by citizens and that their use should be revived. The jury, Chakravarti argues, could be a forward-looking institution that nurtures the best democratic instincts of citizens, but this requires a change in civic education regarding the skills that should be cultivated in jurors before and through the process of a trial. Being a juror, perhaps counterintuitively, can guide citizens in how to be thoughtful rule-breakers by changing their relationship to their own perceptions and biases and by making options for collective action salient, but they must be better prepared and instructed along the way.
About the Author
Sonali Chakravarti is associate professor of government at Wesleyan University. She is the author of Sing the Rage, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
“With controversial cases such as the George Zimmerman jury trial and the Ferguson grand jury deliberations still a vivid part of the national dialogue on race and criminal justice, Radical Enfranchisement in the Jury Room and Public Life has pressing practical importance as well as intellectual significance. Chakravarti seeks to renew appreciation for the juridical and democratic values of the jury by showing how something she calls ‘radical enfranchisement’ can develop and guide citizen deliberation during a trial. Her work expands our understanding of civic education, jury deliberation, and civil disobedience and sends an urgently needed message about renewing the jury’s place in the justice system and in American democracy broadly conceived.” — Albert William Dzur, Bowling Green State University
"...a fresh and sophisticated perspective on the American jury trial and a lens through which lawyers should see this institution and set of practices anew. The questions [Chakravarti's] account raises are among the most important in the criminal justice system." — Robert P. Burns
"Radical Enfranchisement in the Jury Room and Public Life marks a continuation of Sonali Chakravarti's careful thinking about institutional responses to social crises and systemic injustice." — Mark Golub
"Chakravarti argues that juries provide an important site for democratic action by citizens and that their use should be revived. . . Being a juror, she concludes, might guide citizens in how to be thoughtful rule-breakers by changing their relationship to their own perceptions and biases and by making options for collective action salient." — Law and Social Inquiry