Politics & Government

Jerry Brown vetoes bill allowing immigrants to serve on juries

Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed legislation that would have allowed immigrants who are legal permanent residents to serve on juries, saying that the responsibility should be reserved for U.S. citizens.

This has been a prolific year for immigration-related legislation in California, with Brown affirming several of the high-profile measures that crossed his desk. The governor has signed bills that allow undocumented immigrants to practice law and get driver’s licenses. Other bills Brown signed shield the foreign-born from labor discrimination and prohibit jails from detaining immigrants who have committed what the law defines as non-serious crimes.

But Brown drew the line at allowing noncitizens to preside over the legal fate of their peers, saying in a veto message that “jury service, like voting, is a quintessential prerogative and responsibility of citizenship.”

“This bill would permit lawful residents who are not citizens to serve on a jury,” Brown wrote. “I don’t think that’s right.”

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, who chairs the committee that authored Assembly Bill 1401, argued that it would relieve the strain on courts that have difficulty filling juries.

In a broader sense, Wieckowski said the bill would have helped ensure that juries accurately reflect the makeup of society. He noted that the rules dictating who qualifies for jury service have evolved over time – African Americans and women were once excluded. Wieckowski said allowing legal permanent residents to sit on juries would help them integrate into society, a reasonable goal given that legal permanent residency marks the penultimate stop on the path to U.S. citizenship.

“They are here with the stamp of approval from the federal government,” Wieckowski said. “They’re here forever, and that’s a big section of the population.” What a fair trial requires he said, “is impartiality, and that has nothing to do with citizenship.”

But for critics, the bill diluted the significance of citizenship. Distinct cultural norms that underpin America’s legal system may be lost on nonnatives, said Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside, who voted against the bill. Chávez cited varying understandings of what constitutes domestic violence as examples.

“The jury system is a responsibility of citizens,” Chávez told The Bee. “A jury, you need to understand the cultural nuances.”