Sonali Chakravarti

May 11, 2020

Radical Enfranchisement in the Jury Room and Public Life

University of Chicago Press 2020

Sonali Chakravarti, Associate Professor of Political Science at Wesleyan University, has written a thoughtful analysis of the role of the jury in American democracy, with specific attention to the way that the jury experience can provide the structure for more substantive civic engagement. Part of the impetus for this study comes out of the more recent controversial decisions made by juries in a variety of high-profile cases in the United States. The research also evolved out of Chakravarti’s earlier work on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and how citizens were incorporated into the process of transitional justice and engagement in democratic spaces. In Radical Enfranchisement in the Jury Room and Public Life (University of Chicago Press, 2020), Chakravarti argues that the jury room is an important democratic space that is generally ignored as an opportunity to engage citizens in active participation in and with the law. Because we generally are not trained or taught about the actual process we will encounter as jurors, outside of popular culture renderings, we rarely enter into the process with knowledge about either the law itself, or the role that juries can play in their decisions, not only with regard to the case in front of them but also in regard to the legitimacy of the laws themselves. Chakravarti follows up on Alexis de Tocqueville’s praise of the American jury system, while pushing beyond Tocqueville’s admiration to suggest that the jurors themselves can be radically enfranchised as citizens on the jury. Jurors can be better prepared to serve and thus can more fully engage this democratic space if they had more education about the process itself and their capacities inside the jury room. Chakravarti charts both the history of the jury process in the United States, and the various ways that juries have changed how they operate and behave within the parameters of the legal system. This is a fascinating examination of an often obscured but important democratic space.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).

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Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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