Over the course of my 40-year-plus legal career, I have questioned and empanelled several dozen juries. The process is called the “Voir dire,” a French term that translates as “to speak the truth.” I have entreated many hundreds of prospective jurors to do just that: tell me the truth during the course of the interview, as that saves everybody considerable time and effort. I would ask, “If there is any reason that you, as a potential juror, would have a disqualifying bias that would make you unsuited to be a juror in the particular case you are being asked to decide, just tell me, and you can be excused”.
I would also exhort potential jurors to leave the “baggage of their life “ at the courthouse door. By that, I would explain that we all carry with us every day the “baggage of our lives,” which is the totality of our experiences which tilt us one way or another when dealing with any particular issue. We are not always conscious of the bags we carry with us. It is this pre-conceived notion, or bias, that I would ask jurors to shed or check as they embarked on their duty as fair and impartial jurors.
Not everyone is able to render a fair and impartial verdict in every case. There are often certain life experiences that prejudice us from making a fair and dispassionate analysis of the facts of a particular case. Before embarking on their duty as a juror, a jury candidate must even take an oath to render a fair and impartial verdict. The oath of a juror is to decide the case upon the evidence produced at trial, and not on the basis of extraneous information gleaned from other sources.
An example of a juror’s oath would be that they will “well and truly try the matters in issue and a true verdict render according to the evidence and the law.”
That is how a jury trial is set up. The objective is to ferret out the truth, and to render justice.
An impeachment proceeding is a little different, but the objective of ferreting out the truth remains. There is ultimately no Republican or Democratic version of the truth. There is truth, and in finding the truth, facts matter.
U.S. Senators are required to take an oath before proceeding to try the President on any articles of Impeachment proffered them by the House of Representatives.
“The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.”
ARTICLE I, SECTION 3, CLAUSE 6
The senators, under law, are required to render a fair and impartial verdict pursuant to their oath. It is not unlike the requirement of jurors in any other court case. There are those who say impeachment is simply a political process. They are wrong. It is a quasi-judicial process, requiring senators to vote to convict or acquit based upon the facts presented to them and upon their oaths taken.
In the final analysis, it matters not what the commentators on Fox News or CNN or MSNBC say. Nor what the majority or minority party partisans say. It is what the Senators say, under oath. That is their verdict. Nothing more. Nothing less. Let’s try to keep this in mind as we proceed down this road.
Civics lessons do matter. Constitutional requirements matter as well, and justice demands that the process be strictly adhered to. The rule of law is important and as the late Congressman Elijah Cummings said: “We are better than that.”
John Sullivan is a former mayor of Oswego. His regular column, “Forks in the Road,” appears in this space the first Monday of each month.