Working to come up with more inclusive master jury lists
One of the toughest challenges court officials face – pandemic or no pandemic – is how to ensure that their jury pools reflect the diversity of their communities.
NCSC will soon start working with court leaders in Missouri, New Jersey, Tennessee and Maricopa County, Arizona, to create diverse master jury lists for courts there and nationwide. The project involves determining how courts compile their jury lists and how accurately those lists mirror the demographics of their communities, and then coming up with ways to help courts make their lists better.
The two most common lists that courts traditionally use to assemble jury pools are registered voters and licensed drivers, but changes in how government agencies maintain those lists raise concerns that they may be less reliable today. For one thing, recent recessions prompted many states to allow drivers to renew their licenses less frequently, making drivers license lists less current and accurate. And in recent years, Georgia, Kansas, Ohio and other states have purged voter rolls, disproportionately removing people of color and making these lists less likely to capture the diversity of a community.
“Through this project , we’ll learn a great deal about how to create and maintain inclusive, representative and accurate master jury lists, and we’ll use that information to develop best practices for state courts nationwide,” said NCSC researcher Paula Hannaford-Agor, who’s leading the project, which is slated to end at the end of this year.
Hannaford-Agor, director of NCSC’s Center for Jury Studies, said a number of states produce good master jury lists. Connecticut and New York, for example, use four or more lists, including voter registration, drivers license, state income tax and unemployment benefits, to compile their master lists. Massachusetts, using its annual census, “has a really good list,” she said. New Jersey, one of the states in the NCSC project, enacted a law in 2020 to diversify its jury pools by increasing the number of public lists it uses to compile its master jury lists.
The State Justice Institute is funding most of the project, and NCSC will receive guidance from court officials in the project sites as well as from an advisory group of the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators’ Court Management Committee. NCSC will release a best practices guide that will benefit all state courts.
Register for AJA's next webinar: Relief
The American Judges Association's next RX4 webinar, Relief, will highlight the steps courts have taken to resume suspended in-person hearings and jury trials, to adjust to judges and staff working remotely, addressing expanding case backlogs and other issues. The webinar will be held Fri., Jan. 15 at 3 pm EST. Register here.