Acton Institute Powerblog

Fair and Impartial

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The American Bar Association (ABA) recently released a report detailing “Principles for Juries and Jury Trials” (PDF). Included in the report are some recommendations that would allow jurors broader rights to discuss and take notes during the trial. The report comes in the wake of grave political controversy about the judicial system in general, with particular rows over judicial appointment and judicial activism.

One case in particular has raised the ire of many, when earlier this year the jury sentence for convicted and confessed murderer Robert Harlan was overturned. The basis of this decision was that the jurors had consulted the Bible during their deliberations (the opinion of the Colorado Supreme Court is available here in PDF form).

Principle 15 of the ABA report is that “COURTS AND PARTIES HAVE A DUTY TO FACILITATE EFFECTIVE AND IMPARTIAL DELIBERATIONS.” But just what does it mean for a jury to be impartial and objective?

This is what Dr. Stephen Grabill, an Acton Institute research fellow, asks in the cover story for the June 2005 issue of BreakPoint WorldView. In “Juries and Judicial Activism: A Case for Natural Law,” Grabill wonders, “Is the standard of impartiality an ideal too high for judges and juries alike to deliver every day in courtrooms all over the country?” He details the rich history of the trial by jury, called by 18th century English jurist William Blackstone, “the grand bulwark of our liberties.” Grabill further examines the Colorado court decision within the context of the mandate for jurors to consult their consciences and arrive at “moral assessments.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

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