I have been following the Senate’s impeachment trial as much as I can and listening to the presentations of both sides. While I have my own point of view, I think it is important to fully understand the issues at stake.
I was a high school American History teacher for several years in upstate New York. I most enjoyed covering the Constitution and the Bill of Rights which took me several months. I am watching the hearings because I want to be a witness to history. In a country where 30% of the public does not even know that there are three branches of government, I think there is a missed opportunity here. I have appreciated this wonderful history lesson about the Constitution, the views of the Founding Fathers, and what took place at the Constitutional Convention.
Both sides have asked that the public use its common sense. Well, here is my take.
I served as a juror for more than two weeks on two criminal trials in New York City. I came away appreciating the concept of due process. First, I went through several rounds of voir dire and came away better understanding the concept of the presumption of innocence. A judge told me to approach the bench and asked me if I thought the defendant was innocent or guilty. I said I needed to hear the facts of the case. He explained to me that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. I realized that I had been the victim of a similar crime and perhaps I was not open-minded after all.
During each trial I understood the role of both the prosecutor and defense attorneys. As a juror, I sat silently for hours listening carefully to the witnesses and evidence. I took seriously the judge’s instruction that I was not to discuss any of the case with other jurors. I was told that I should not watch any television coverage about the case.
One of the juries that I was on was made up of a broad range of people of different racial, ethnic, social, economic, and educational backgrounds. At the beginning of our deliberation, we all acknowledged that both the judge’s and the prosecutor’s behaviors were inappropriate so we all agreed to focus solely on witness testimony and the evidence. Because of some differences in background, we could not come to a conclusion at the end of the first day so we were sequestered much to my personal inconvenience. Again, we were told to avoid doing anything that could sway our opinions. All of the jurors took this to heart. After having an enjoyable dinner together, several jurors came to understand each other better and no longer questioned motives. Immediately, the following morning we reached our conclusion.
In the impeachment hearing our Chief Justice, John Roberts, swore the senators in to be impartial jurors and follow decorum. In fact, he admonished the senators, referring to the Senate as the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” Nevertheless, the behavior of many senators has been appalling. Many have walked out for periods at a time. They are talking amongst each other; they are passing notes. It was noted that Senator Rand Paul is doing drawings and actually left the deliberations to talk
to the press. Senator Marsha Blackburn was not only reading but proudly announced to the public the title of the book.
Where has John Roberts been in all of this? I thought he was an Institutionalist. I thought he was supposed to be above mere politics. Yet, he has done nothing to correct this behavior. His only admonition on decorum was the result of Susan Collins’ complaint about Senator Nadler’s comments. And it was Susan Collins who complained about the press sitting in the front row; she wanted them pushed back.
I am truly saddened by what I am seeing. Because of my experiences as a juror and teacher, I have been so inspired by our legal system. “The greatest deliberative body in the world, Mr. Chief Justice? Really?
Barbara Vann, Chestertown, Maryland
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