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Justifying the Jury: Reconciling Justice, Equality, and Democracy


The jury is a paradigmatic example of a democratic institution that may be justified strictly on instrumental and epistemic grounds: its ability to yield just outcomes. Yet why should we have confidence in its ability? The jury's reliability derives from the jurors’ status as local experts (hierarchical equality), as well as near-universal eligibility and selection by lot (horizontal equality): This dual egalitarianism is a condition of the jury's epistemic value. Yet ordinary citizens thereby acquire an interest in epistemic respect or recognition of their presumptively equal competence to judge. The instrumental value of the jury and intrinsic (respect-based) value of jury service may thus be reconciled; although trade-offs between just verdicts and respectful treatment are possible, the jury's ability to attain just verdicts may be improved by reforms generated by concerns about respectful treatment of jurors. This framework sheds light on the justification of democratic institutions more generally.

Corresponding author
Melissa Schwartzberg is the Silver Professor of Politics, New York University, 19 W. 4th Street, 2nd Floor, New York, New York 10012 (
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I am grateful for the financial support and educational opportunities provided by the Andrew W. Mellon “New Directions” Fellowship, undertaken at New York University School of Law, and the Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Faculty Fellowship at University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. I gratefully acknowledge comments from Kevin Elliott, Jeffrey Lenowitz, Bernard Manin, Ryan Pevnick, Susanna Rinard, Anna Stilz, and Daniel Viehoff and from audiences at the Oxford Political Thought Conference, the Emory University Department of Political Science, Fordham Law School, and the LSR Fellows’ seminar at Princeton. An earlier and different version of this paper, focusing on the civil jury, was presented at Harvard Law School; Washington University in St. Louis; University of California—Berkeley; CUNY Graduate Center; Tulane Law School; the University of Chicago; the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales; and the New York University School of Law. I appreciate comments from audiences and discussants that clarified my argument and that led me to abandon that paper's framework in favor of the one adopted here. I am also grateful for the advice of APSR political theory editor Leigh Jenco and the anonymous reviewers.

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American Political Science Review
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