California Bill Allowing Immigrants To Serve On Juries Stands Before Gov. Brown

It would be the first law of its kind in the United States, where jury duty is restricted to U.S. citizens.

The measure sailed through the Democrat-dominated California Assembly last week, despite Republican opposition. As the annual legislative session comes to a close, the last hurdle it faces before becoming law is Brown’s approval.

But critics in the press and Republican opponents don’t want to see that happen.

“Gov. Jerry Brown should veto the bill,” the Sacramento Bee wrote in an editorial. “Like voting or holding public office, jury duty is one of the ways that citizens share in the governance of our democratic republic.”

George Skelton echoed the sentiment in a column published Wednesday by the Los Angles Times.

“After all, you must be a citizen to be eligible to serve in the Legislature and write the laws,” Skelton wrote. “You have to be a citizen to be a governor who signs the laws. And you have to be a citizen to vote and elect the lawmakers. It seems incongruous to allow noncitizens to determine whether a defendant has broken a law.”

The law is generally favored by Latino Assembly members, most of whom belong to the Democratic Party. John Perez (D-Los Angeles) told the Associated Press that the law was designed to afford immigrants a jury of their peers.

“This isn't about affording someone who would come in as a juror something," Perez said back in March, when the bill was first proposed. "But rather understanding that the importance of the jury selection process of affording justice to the person in that courtroom."

California is the U.S. state with the most foreign-born residents, with about 10.2 million, according to the 2010 American Community Survey -- 27 percent of the state’s population. Hispanics represent the largest chunk of foreign-born residents, accounting for more than half, but more than a quarter of the immigrant population was born in Asia, 12 percent in Europe and 4 percent in Africa.

Not all Latino legislators agree with allowing non-citizens to serve on juries. Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside) questioned the law, according to the Los Angeles Times, saying: What is the problem that we're trying to solve? Is there a shortage of people offering to serve on juries?"

Brown signed a separate law Wednesday that allows legal permanent residents to serve as poll workers.

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