William and Mary Law School

Symposium to Review Role of Civil Jury as a Political Institution

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC), Center for Jury Studies and the Institute of Bill of Rights Law will co-host a symposium titled "The Civil Jury as a Political Institution" on February 22-23 at William & Mary Law School.

The symposium will review the various justifications for the civil jury as a political institution: as an instrument of popular sovereignty, a vehicle for applying community norms in law, a source of democratic legitimacy, and a check on government and corporate power.

"Debates over the civil jury usually focus on whether juries do a good or bad job at deciding cases. We're taking a closer look at precisely what role the civil jury plays in our democracy," said Jason Solomon, associate professor at William & Mary Law School, and an organizer of the conference.

The symposium will bring together scholars from different perspectives, including political theory, history, and those doing empirical work in psychology and other disciplines to evaluate how juries actually operate in practice.

"Criminal juries in their roles as a 'bulwark against tyranny' and the 'conscience of the community' usually get most of the attention by the media and by scholars. This symposium will focus on the debate over whether the civil jury plays a similar role in the American justice system, and if so, whether it does it well," said Paula Agor-Hannaford, director of the NCSC Center for Jury Studies, who also is an organizer of the conference.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, will deliver the opening remarks for the symposium. Whitehouse is expected to defend the role of the civil jury in our democracy, and explain the jury's centrality to contemporary debates in Congress, and recent cases before the Supreme Court. 

Following Whitehouse's remarks, six panels, featuring scholars from leading law schools across the country, will discuss various topics related to the civil jury as a political institution. The panels will focus on: 1) juries as political actors; 2) the civil jury's place in our constitutional structure; 3) value judgments through damages; 4) jurors as participants in democracy; 5) jurors as community experts; and 6) representation by and diversity on the jury.

The event is free and open to the public. For more information on this symposium and to register, click here.