Opinions, Judges, and Juries

Why is it that a prerequisite for being a jury member is that you have no opinion about the case—in particular or in general.  Those “who may have strong prejudices about the … issues involved in the case, typically will be excused” (uscourts.gov/FederalCourts/JuryService).  Only airheads need apply.

I don’t believe there are such prerequisites for judges.  So either the system is just inconsistent (ho-hum) or judges are trained to set aside their prejudices in order to render a fair judgement.  (Some judgements certainly constitute evidence to the contrary, i.e., that judges are not so trained.)

Yes, the word ‘prejudice’ is usually intended to mean something negative, but really, isn’t a prejudice just an opinion, perhaps a very strong opinion?  In ordinary contexts, the ‘pre’ in ‘prejudice’ suggests you’ve established your opinion before considering the individual facts—you’ve prejudged a person, for example, on the basis of their skin color or sex, without knowing anything about the individual person.

But in this context, if I have formed an opinion about, say, the issue of abortion, before considering the individual facts of the case (let’s assume it’s an ‘unlawful termination’ case or some such), why should that exclude me?  Isn’t it a good thing that I have thought long and carefully about various issues?  Apparently not.  When it comes to juries, only airheads need apply.  (Pity, ‘opinionated’ has become such a dirty word.)


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