As our country seemingly becomes more and more politically divided, and in some cases ethically divided, I feel excitement and fear about the vote tomorrow. I feel excitement because tomorrow will likely (and hopefully) be a historic day for the state of Louisiana. Tomorrow the residents of Louisiana get to vote on a ballot measure that could end the state’s split-jury system.
The split jury is a vestige of the 1898 Louisiana Constitution. It was implemented to more easily create and control free labor through “convict leasing,” recapturing the free black population using the justice system. In fact, looking back at records from the Louisiana Constitutional Convention of 1898, several measures including the split-jury measure sought explicitly to “establish the supremacy of the white race.” The split-jury system only remains in two states: Louisiana and Oregon. However, even in Oregon, all 12 jurors must agree on the verdict when considering murder charges. In Louisiana, that is not the case; only 10 out 12 jurors are needed for someone to be sentenced to life in prison. This system, which has been dubbed “Jim Crow’s Last Stand,” was put into place after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.
The opposition to today’s ballot measure to end the split jury believes that it will be more difficult to obtain a just result and that unanimous juries will ultimately hold up the justice system. It believes that mistrials and hung juries will delay justice for victims and their families.
Why Is This Important to Librarians?
AALL has had its own history and growth with diversity and inclusion throughout its inception (you can read more about in a short article by Frank G. Houdek). Further, AALL Special Interest Sections and Caucuses over the years have been developed specifically for diversity and inclusion. Libraries themselves must be dedicated to principles of social justice, diversity and equity in all facets—staff, collection, even services and programing. More importantly, for librarians specifically, as purveyors and guardians of information, our duty is to commit ourselves to diversity and inclusion, because we cannot (in my opinion) fully provide access to information without practicing diversity and inclusion.
What does this look like? There are no simple, one-size-fits-all answers. A good starting point is AALL Diversity and Inclusion in Law Libraries: Resources. If you are ambitious, you might even take the time to write a “Diversity & Inclusion” or mission statement for your library, so you have an outline of what is important to your institution and the next steps you may need to take to be more inclusive.
Focusing on our libraries is of course a more local approach, but if you do want to get more global, where to start is simple—Go vote today.
And the next time you hear from me, I will hopefully be writing to you from a unanimous jury state.