Members of the Yale community gathered in Rosenkranz Hall on Tuesday to discuss an academic paper on the ideal jury system, as part of the first meeting for the spring 2020 session of the Political Theory Workshop.

The workshop — supported by the Department of Political Science, the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for the International and Area Studies and the Institution for Social and Policy Studies — features a different academic paper each session. These works bear bylines of authors with Yale ties as well as those of visiting scholars. Wesleyan University Associate Professor of Government Sonali Chakravarti attended the afternoon meeting dedicated to discussing her paper “Wanted: Angela Davis and a Jury of Her Peers.” The paper progressed a theory for an ideal jury system, in which jurors are civically educated about their responsibilities before they enter jury duty. Her work tackles this topic through studying the case of Angela Davis, a social activist and former member of the Black Panther Party, as well as the Communist Party.

“She said in her opening statement that there’s no way this looks like a jury of [her] peers,” Chakravarti said in summarizing Davis. “I was interested in whether we consider ‘that jury’ a jury of her peers … but the other important part of being a peer is to understand that jurors in the courtroom are not replete players in the field. They can see the case as an individual instance.”

Giulia Oskian, who is a Yale professor of political science and faculty convener for the Political Theory Workshop, called the program “a great opportunity that we have every week to bring in people from other institutions.” She added that the program is also “a way in which grad students and faculty can engage in discussions peer to peer,” as well as a means of providing graduate students with examples of professional research methods.

Participants in the workshop received the paper ahead of time and came prepared with questions, critiques and other feedback. As the author of the paper, Chakravarti said the workshop was productive for her as she undertakes revisions on her paper. In the theory explored in the work, the education of jurors would take place in schools, universities and community workshops.

“This workshop is known to have really sharp graduate students and professors, and they asked lots of hard questions,” she told the News. Such questions centered on the feasibility of this system, the applications in various cases, how judges should be involved and how the author employed sympathy in the work.

Isabelle Laurenzi GRD ’24 called the workshop a “little disappointing,” in that it did not center around the aspects of the paper that she found exciting. But in general, she said she considers the workshops to be a “mixed bag” as to how fulfilling she feels they are.

“Whether I get something out of the workshops varies, depending not just on the content of the paper but whether it has been published or is a work in progress, as well as whether they are more open to changing their ideas and engaging with questions,” Laurenzi said. “It is often a really useful experience in terms of thinking about how people respond to questions or ask questions, and I’ll also learn about my peers and what they’re interested in by virtue of the kinds of questions they’re
asking.”

Although the discussions are respectful, the audience members voiced and reacted to a range of opinions progressed by other attendees as well as the author of the paper. After a question about the role of judges in the ideal juror system, Chakravarti responded that “interpreting the law always has a political component to it,” which drew eyebrows and slight murmurs from attendees.

“People are so afraid of jurors really learning about their power,” Chakravarti said after the workshop. “Which just makes me think that everybody should learn about it, and that will be the new normal.

Angela Davis will be the keynote speaker this Thursday at Yale’s 2020 MLK Commemoration.

 

Madison Hahamy | madison.hahamy@yale.edu