Juries: America’s Historic Barrier Against Oppressive Laws & Government Tyranny

Prior to the American revolution an English general was overheard to say, “You can not pull the wool over the eyes of those Americans; they are all a bunch of lawyers.” Book stores in London at that time sold more law books in the American colonies than any book except the Holy Bible. The American revolution and the American Republic were rooted in a climate of knowledge. Americans knew their law! They also knew their Bible, upon which the principles of the English common law are based. Thomas Jefferson said, in effect, that a people who wished to remain ignorant and to be free, desired something that never had been and never would be.

In the fight to regain our rights, most of our effort is, and has to be, in the political arena. However, in addition to political action, there is another area in which gun owners, their families, and friends can be effective in stopping the government dead in its tracks, whenever it attempts to infringe upon our rights — IF THEY HAVE KNOWLEDGE!

Any Citizen when serving on a jury, if he KNOWS his rights and duties as a juror, can in the case he is on, stop the government cold if he believes the statute to be unconstitutional or unfair simply by voting not guilty. When juries find a defendant not guilty in cases where the defendant did in fact violate the statute, it nullifies the statute in that particular case. Repeated and continuous JURY NULLIFICATION of a law makes it impossible for the government to enforce it and will lead to repeal of that law.

The power of the jury to nullify was first exercised in a seventeenth century English court and was discussed in an article by Godfrey Lehman in the November 1988 issue of The Justice Times.

“The ordeal suffered by twelve anonyms in London over 300 years ago is recorded obscurely in history under the colorless, non-descriptive title of “Bushell’s Case.” Its 20th century oblivion belies the respect it commanded in the 18th, and conceals its enduring multiple influences upon our Constitutional republic. Fully understood, it can be appreciated as one of the most influential single events in the entire history of our imperfect species because of its impact upon the writers of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Most significantly it was spontaneous, unlike any other great charter of liberty.

    “It was accomplished without deliberate, conscious planning; without great public agitation, and did not require the signing of a formal document. It did not involve any highly-placed persons. It arose directly from the people. It is the story of the trial of William Penn, who had committed no more serious offense than preach Quakerism in spite of an official ‘law,’ known as the Conventicle Act, intended to proscribe all religions except the Church of England. The jurors suffered up to nine weeks of torture to stand by the principle that every person has a right to worship according to his own conscience. Because they did not waver, they finally won.

    “The Conventicle Act fell before these twelve inconsequential ‘bumbleheads’ — these twelve ‘simple-witted cockneys’ without rank nor position in the government. There were no further prosecutions under that act. It was not necessary to importune vote-seeking legislators to pass repealing legislation. The entire government was humbled before them. They gained no material benefits for themselves, they blended back into their pre-trial anonymity.

    “By nullifying, the jury corrects governmental abuses and usurpations one at a time without violence, within the arena of the courtroom, preventing the formation of a long chain, which unchecked, could lead to revolution, as it did in 1776. The jury should be highly respected and honored.”

The right of juries to judge the justice of laws was eloquently discussed in 1852 by author Lysander Spooner in his, “ESSAY IN THE TRIAL BY JURY.”

He wrote, “For more than six hundred years — that is, since Magna Carta, in 1215 — there has been no clearer principle of English or American constitutional law, than that, in criminal cases, it is not only the right and duty of juries to judge what are the facts, what is the law, and what was the moral intent of the accused; but that it is also their right, and their primary and paramount duty, to judge of the justice of the law, and to hold all laws invalid, that are, in their opinion, unjust or oppressive, and all persons guiltless in violating, or resisting the execution of, such laws.”

Quoting further from Mr. Lehman’s Justice Times article:

    “Almost universally, judges would extricate from jurors the false oath to “Take the law as I dictate it to you, no matter how you feel about it.” Judges who do this are acting criminally as they are violating their own sacred Constitutional oaths. They would dominate the jury. Principled jurors refusing to take the oath are forcibly removed from the panel (also illegal).

    “My position as a juror is to take the oath but, if the law is repugnant, to repudiate it in the jury room. Since to insist upon the oath is duress, and since it demands yielding inherent, Constitutionally guaranteed rights and powers, it is a lie from the beginning. It is not valid. It is the gun to your head and the offer you can’t refuse. Jurors who have ostensibly sworn to the oath have remained on juries to prevent what would have been miscarriages of justice.

    “The intense inquisition of jurors before trial is also to destroy jury independence by attempting to stack the jury with only compliant non-questioning jurors. The Constitution does not permit the court to invade the private lives of jurors with these outrageous inquisitions.

    “That all of this is done in defiance of the Constitution is only partial demonstration of the extent we have progressed toward judicial oligarchy — despite those repeated Constitutional guarantees. The most valuable lesson we can learn from the ordeal of the Bushell jurors is that we do not require legislation nor other official act to save this grand bulwark of liberty, and liberty itself. We require only ourselves, knowledgeable and refusing to submit.

    “And because our liberty depends principally upon the honesty of jurors, we the people, can overcome the oligarchy by doing nothing else than following, as jurors, the Bushell example of acting on conscience and principle.”

Knowledgeable grass-roots political activity is absolutely necessary if we are to keep and regain our unalienable rights, protected by constitutional prohibitions on government. However, by serving on juries, when given the opportunity, with knowledge, acting on conscience and principle we can, once again, make the jury (at least the one we serve on) a “palladium of liberty.”

It is my hope that many Americans will become informed regarding the power of juries and that they will share their knowledge with family, friends, and neighbors. It is far easier to stop the enemies of liberty in the jury box than it is at Concord’s bridge (shot heard around the world).

For more information, about the power of juries write to the:

Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA)
P.O. Box 59
Helmville, MT 59403
Phone (406) 793-5550

Wayne Stump is a former Arizona State Senator.