Jury Duty Is a Poll Tax: The Case for Severing the Link between Voter Registration and Jury Service

Article excerpt

Federal jury service has been formally connected to voter registration since 1968. Congress intended for this linkage to improve the American jury system by increasing representation of groups previously excluded from the jury pool. However, as legislative inaction and judicial acquiescence have exacerbated the economic costs of jury service, this practice has also parasitically burdened the right to vote, creating a "self-disenfranchising incentive." This Note argues that jury duty is sufficiently burdensome, and that this burden sufficiently impacts voting, so as to constitute a poll tax in violation of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. There is a simple, effective solution to this problem: prohibiting the use of voter registration lists to create jury lists, and instead using any number of available alternative sources to create a representative jury pool.

I. Introduction

People hate getting jury duty.1 Even those who enjoy serving on a jury report that they try to avoid it whenever possible.2 One plausible explanation for this aversion is the significant financial burden jury duty poses for the average citizen. Some counties in South Carolina, for instance, pay jurors minimum wage for an eight-hour workday - as of 1938. 3 Although this pittance has been attacked for decades, jury service has been upheld as a "duty" required of citizens absent a showing of "financial embarrassment."4 For many, this inadequate compensation is simply inconvenient, but for those who are self-employed, hold multiple part-time jobs, or are dependent on tips as part of their compensation, the potential loss of income is critical and they do whatever they can to avoid it.5

Compiling names from voter registration records is the nearuniversal method of creating a jury list; forty-two out of fifty states use voter registration lists to form jury lists,6 and voter registration is still the only required source list for federal juries.7 Despite the obscurity of this area of law, more citizens know how they get jury duty than know which party controls Congress.8 Many of those who simply cannot afford to serve on juries make the most logical choice under the circumstances: they do not register to vote.9

This Note argues that linking jury duty to voter registration places an impermissible economic burden on American citizens' right to vote, disenfranchising as much as seven percent of the U.S. population.10 As such, this linkage violates the TwentyFourth and Fourteenth Amendments as a poll tax.11 Part II explores the practice of using voter registration lists to populate jury pools, including the history of voter registration lists as a jury source list, the financial burden of jury duty, and the disenfranchising effect of this link. Part III argues that these elements, taken together, impose an impermissible burden on the right to vote, because the use of voter registration lists to populate the jury pool does not serve a governmental interest in election administration, and thus is per se discriminatory regardless of the degree of harm it inflicts. Part IV proposes a simple solution to this problem: banning the use of voter registration lists to create jury pools, and instead relying on the plethora of other available source lists.


Although the practice of using voter registration lists to populate juries is longstanding, a thorough examination of this link reveals that it has not improved with age. Part ILA explores the history of linking jury duty to voter registration lists, and the near universal judicial support for this practice despite legal challenges and academic critique. Part ?. ? examines the state and federal statutes that create the financial burdens of jury duty, such as those relating to juror compensation, wage guarantee, and employment protection. Part II. C explains that the use of voter registration lists to create the jury list is a matter of public knowledge, with such a strong "self-disenfranchising incentive" that some states have eliminated reliance on voter registration lists in jury list construction in an attempt to raise voter turnout levels. …