The Missing American Jury: Restoring the Fundamental Constitutional Role of the Criminal, Civil, and Grand Juries by Suja A. Thomas (Cambridge University Press, $99.99, 262 pages)
“Juries should decide criminal and civil cases… And grand juries should decide whether charges proceed against criminal defendants in state courts prior to any plea discussions by the government.”
“Blackstone cautioned against establishing tribunals of judges and other persons to decide facts without juries. Other countries had done so, eliminating juries, and eventually devolved into aristocracies.”
University of Illinois law professor Suja Thomas’s review of the functions of the American jury is written in obtuse, legalese, textbook language: “A jury trial will not be required for a new cause of action for which money remedies are available unless the action is analogous to one that existed at common law.” This, and a price of $100, makes it difficult to determine who would serve as the audience for the book.
The premise of the work is that the jury is an increasingly powerless and limited aspect of the criminal and civil justice system; and the role of grand juries has also been eroded. This is definitely true at a time when over 90 percent of criminal cases are settled without a jury (e.g., plea agreements). I suppose Thomas has performed a service in detailing the history of juries in the U.S. and elsewhere, but I doubt that 262 pages was needed to make a single point.
I was on my way to potentially serve on a jury panel when I began to read the work. This led me to realize that there are two groups who might be interested in reading The Missing American Jury (presuming they can find a copy in a library); specifically, those called for jury duty and pre-law students. Law students will learn enough about the topic in their first-year classes.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
The Return of George Washington: 1783-1789 by Edward J. Larson (William Morrow, $29.99, 357 pages)
In retrospect, Washington’s ascent to the presidency seems so foreordained as to need no explanation. It appeared so at the time as well. Virtually everyone expected it, yet Washington’s closest friends and advisors… felt a need to encourage him.
The Return of George Washington by Edward J. Larson may be a totally accurate account of a significant period in the life of Washington, but I found it to be rather flavorless and colorless. The reader learns how it was that Washington was drafted into accepting the role of this country’s first president, but never gets close to understanding who or what he was as a man, a living person. The Washington presented by Larson is gloomy and pessimistic and anguished; writing that he saw “nothing but clouds and darkness before me” in serving as president. Others have painted a portrait of a man who was quite intelligent, cunning and ambitious. He was certainly nothing if not courageous, leading a rag-tag volunteer army against what was then the most powerful nation on earth.
This account contains a few typos that will hopefully be corrected in the trade paper version. Larson also relies upon some strange word selections (“proroguing”) that may reflect an overly academic style.
If one has never read a biography of Washington, this is not a bad place to start but it only covers the period after the Revolutionary War through Washington’s death. There are fuller accounts. The strongest section deals with the machinations of the Constitutional Convention. Law students may find it interesting.
A better choice of a Washington bio fortunately remains in print, Washington: The Indispensable Man by the late James Thomas Flexner (first published in 1974). That account won a National Book Award for biography and a special Pulitzer Prize citation. It is the account of Washington’s life to read; an account that is full, rich, complete and completely convincing when it comes to detailing the greatness of Washington, the man.
Note: The Los Angeles Times labeled Flexner’s biography of Washington, “The most convincing evocation of the man and his deeds in one book.”