US District Court Nonsense

by Joy Tomme

Yesterday, I received a questionnaire in the mail from the United States District Court Eastern District for Pennsylvania. It was to determine my eligibility to serve as a juror in the US District Court. I was told my name had been drawn by random selection. Thirteen years ago, I officially and in writing, opted out of jury service…that’s an option one can take at age 70 and I availed myself of it.

The print copy of the questionnaire was from the 1970’s. The Yes or No questions had a little oval that had to be filled-in completely with a No. 2 pencil (with “heavy black marks” we were advised), ink pens or ballpoint pens were a strict no-no. A postage-free envelope for returning the questionnaire came with the questionnaire. The instructions noted that it could alternatively be submitted online through a dot-gov site called eJuror. I did it that way, and it was easy and totally tech-savvy. All the questions were the same as the ones on the print version.

I don’t understand why I got the questionnaire at all…random is one thing, but doesn’t the US District Court keep records? And sending out forms devised forty or fifty years ago is ridiculous. Who or what tabulates the answers on these ancient forms? Does the US District Court still use daisy wheel printers? And yes, I could opt-out because of age, just as I had before…but I had to go through the drill again.

But the question I really wonder about is: Why was I asked if I am “Black/African American…Asian…American Indian/Alaska Native…White…Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander…Other (specify)” ?And separately I was asked if I am Hispanic or Latino. Why is that a separate question? The questionnaire says these questions are asked in order to ensure that all people are represented on juries. That just doesn’t scan for me. This was a preliminary random questionnaire…why are these questions asked on a preliminary random questionnaire? And when one is called up for jury duty, there are all kinds of ways that lawyers can keep “all people” from being represented on juries—challenges for cause…peremptory challenges, etc. Juries are definitely not represented by all people…but why the bullshit on this form?

Getting answers to these questions about ethnicity does not ensure that all people will be represented on juries…but what are these questions for? All forms ask these same questions about ethnicity. Why? Presumably, being qualified for assistance or for any government program is not based on ethnicity…is it?

Well, is it?