Should immigrants be allowed to serve on juries? It's a no-brainer. Of course they should. And they should be allowed to vote, to serve in the Legislature, to become governor. It would be morally wrong and blatantly unconstitutional to deny these basic rights and responsibilities to people who move here, demonstrate proficiency in the language and then pass a test showing they have a basic understanding of the nation's history and its justice system. People, in other words, who become naturalized. Citizens.
But there is a distinction between the rights and responsibilities of citizens and those of legal immigrants who are not citizens. Gov. Jerry Brown understands that, and he was absolutely correct to veto a bill Monday that would have extended the right to serve on a jury — or, if you prefer, the burden of serving on a jury — to noncitizens. In his veto message, he was blunt.
"Jury service, like voting, is quintessentially a prerogative and responsibility of citizenship," Brown wrote. "This bill would permit lawful permanent residents who are not citizens to serve on a jury. I don't think that's right."
The public response to the veto of AB 1401 became a kind of Rorschach test of values and views of citizenship, and of just who immigrants to the United States are. When the bill cleared the Assembly in April, more than a few online headlines asserted, falsely, that it would "let illegal immigrants serve on juries," demonstrating an inability to distinguish between new arrivals who are here legally and those who are not, and, perhaps, a discomfort with immigrants of any sort. Some supporters of the bill argued that the proposed legislation was the natural evolution of laws that over time have eliminated clearly improper restrictions against women, the elderly, African Americans, Asian Americans and other ethnic or racial groups — revealing a view that citizenship can be as much a tool of exclusion as racism and other forms of discrimination. Some arguments in support of the bill failed to differentiate between noncitizen immigrants and citizen immigrants — betraying a belief that there is not much difference between them.