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Resolved: In the United States, jury nullification is a legitimate check on government

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Overview

Jury nullification is a topic that addresses the division of power in the judicial system. It asks the question, how much power belongs to the layperson jury and how much belongs to the expert, appointed judge? The question of limiting the power of judges comes up in many issues, including presidential pardons and judicial activism vs. judicial restraint, which pits the court against previous courts, but also against the legislature.

Contents

Definitions

Jury Nullification

The ability for juries to rule in a manner contrary to the Judge's instructions, or to the way in which the Judge has described the law or stated the facts.

Legitimate Check

There are many different ways you could define this. Legitimacy could be based on a moral code (which would need to be further defined), on natural law, on archetypal and commonly accepted definitions of justice and law, or strictly on the U.S. Constitution.

Government

It may be useful to clarify on which agent of government jury nullification is or is not a legitimate check. Is it only on the judge, specifically? Is it also legitimate when it overrules U.S. law?

Affirming the Topic

ArgumentsResponses

Popular Interpretation

Yes

Restricting jury nullification takes the power of governing out of the hands of the people, where it belongs, and puts it in the hand of one individual. According to the the Gettysburg Address, the U.S. government is "government of the people, by the people, for the people." Therefore it follows that the people should be allowed to interpret the law. Juries do not nullify eagerly. When they do, it is because it is clear to the jurors that the case is being misinterpreted by the sole Judge. If juries are not allowed to nullify, then the governing power that should belong to the people will instead belong to one man or woman.

No

Jury nullfication negatively affects the Judge's benign role as the unbiased referee of the court. The people have the power to rule in trials, but they must do it in accordance to the laws set down by the American legislature, not based on their own biases. It is the judge's responsibility to be an expert of the law and to decide how the specific case relates to the applicable laws. It is the jury's role to make a judgement regarding the truth of the specific events of the case presented to them. When the jury exceeds that role, it is stepping on the United States Judicial system and on the laws that were created by the people, for the people.

Argument #2

Yes

No

Argument #3

Yes

No

Argument #4

Yes

No


Negating the Topic

ArgumentsResponses

Unjust for Minorities

Yes

Jury nullification is unjust to minority groups because it gives more judicial power to the majority, while the Judicial Branch is the branch of government most suited to protect minority groups. The American checks and balance system works to prevent any member or group within the government from seizing too much power, but it also works to prevent any group of people or sector of the public from having too much affectual power in government. While the legislature and the executive branches are both popularly elected, the judicial branch is filled mostly by appointments. The appointed judges are meant to serve as unbiased interpreters of the law. They serve to ensure that society follows the laws it has set out for itself, and also that no person is punished for an unjust law that violates the constitution. The Supreme Court has often been ahead of its time in protecting the rights of the few: Brown v. Board of Ed. preceded the Civil Rights Act; the Warren Court's criminal rights decisions were unpopular with the public at the time, but are generally accepted today; Roe v. Wade protected the right to choose when almost every State had abolished that right. But it is the role of judges at every level of the judicial system to act as the unbiased referees of the law, in protection of both the many and the few. This prerogative is restricted by jury nullification because biased jurors can overrule an unbiased judge who is attempting to provide a minority group equal protection under the law.

No

On the contrary, no minority group in American History has ever been given its rights because one person thought it ought to be so. The civil rights movement, the women's rights movement, and the gay rights movements were all the act of many citizens coming together under a common cause. The more citizens active in government, the more likely it is for American citizens to receive their equal due. For every one Brown v. Board of Ed. there are many Dred Scotts and Plessy v. Furgesons.

Argument #2

Yes

No

Argument #3

Yes

No


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