Libby Trial: Biased Jury Pool Delays Opening Arguments

Judge Reggie Walton has had to readjust his plans for the Scooter Libby trial to deal with a jury pool so overwhelmingly biased against the Bush administration, according to AP’s
Matt Apuzzo. Opening arguments have been pushed back to next Tuesday, even though they were supposed to take place Monday.

Walton set a Monday through Thursday schedule for the trial, freeing him to perform other duties on Fridays. Because voir dire could not be completed yesterday, though–MBA’s Robert Cox reports that only one potential juror got selected yesterday–they are meeting at 3:00 this afternoon to continue the process.

They’re actually running out of jurors in the main pool, because many have been struck for cause. As a result, Apuzzo reports, “Walton needs six more jurors to fill the jury pool but has only a handful available in the original pool. He ordered 10 jurors from an alternate pool to come to court on Monday in case they run out.”

And we haven’t even gone through the peremptory challenges yet. Apuzzo’s colleague Michael Sniffen notes that Libby’s attorneys have twelve and prosecutors have eight. That means they need to get 36 people through the first round to ensure that enough survive the peremptories to leave 12 jurors and 4 alternates.

Obviously, the Libby trial is very high profile and unusual because of the figures involved and the facts being so intertwined with divisive public policy issues. Still, I continue to wonder if the District of Columbia, with a 9-to-1 Democrat to Republican ratio, is a proper venue for a trial of this sort. The District was conceived of as an independent seat of government not beholden to any particular State; it’s existence as a city with a large population is a historical accident. Moving these trials to, say, Alexandria, Virginia or Silver Spring, Maryland would provide a much more diverse jury pool and increase the likelihood of a fair trial.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. madmatt says:

    Of course if republicans had ever done ANYTHING for the people of the district maybe this wouldn’t be an issue. It is no worse for libby than it would be for a black suspect in a white enclave….why do we only hear complaints about the unfairness of the system when it is a rich white man or college student?

  2. Triumph says:

    it’s existence as a city with a large population is a historical accident.

    This is not true. Take a look at l’Enfant’s plan–he platted out residential districts. When Washington chose him to plat the city, it was always intended to have people living there.

  3. Fersboo says:

    Yeah, let us move the trial to Silver Spring where the ratio is a more balanced 4-to-1 Democrat to Republican ratio.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Triumph: That’s why I applied the modifier “with a large population.” Until WWII, DC was a sleepy little hamlet.

    Fersboo: All of DC’s near suburbs are more liberal than the country as a whole. But they’re less densely populated with people who make their living through direct interaction with the federal government, let alone personally know major players in the case. There’s just more diversity there.

    Plus, Libby actually lives in McLean, not the District. Granting that the alleged crimes took place in a DC courthouse, he’s more likely to be tried by a community of his peers in the suburbs.

  5. Anderson says:

    I think it’s a little late to be denying DCers the right to serve on a jury.

    Presumably, being such a smart guy & all, Mr. Libby knew where he was when he appeared before the grand jury, and could take that into account in deciding what to answer.

    As for the “biased jury pool,” that would seem to be a national problem too. That well-known liberal bias of reality …

  6. legion says:

    Yeah, Anderson. That dang liberal reality.

    Y’know, if you don’t think you can find 36 people in Washington freaking DC who haven’t pre-judged your guilt, it might spur some people to look at their own character…

  7. Beldar says:

    There’s little doubt that the District’s jury pool will present an uncomfortable prospect for the defense team. But the events giving rise to the indictment took place there. It’s the single most logical venue.

    Were the prosecution to have picked a district in Maryland or Virginia to indict, that would have been about as bright, from their point of view, as the OJ prosecutors picking downtown LA instead of Brentwood. Fitzgerald’s team weren’t forum-shopping when they indicted in the District, but they presumably aren’t as distressed in looking at the jury pool tendencies as the defense team is likely to be.

    And the defense team won’t exactly be surprised by any of this. If they thought they couldn’t get a fair trial there, within the constitutionally minimal boundaries, they’d presumably have sought a change of venue, but I don’t recall reading that they did. The District may be anti-Bush Administration, but it’s also not traditionally pro-prosecution. There are potentially offsetting advantages to this jury pool, IF the defense team can capture them. Getting the pool to perceive acquitting Scooter Libby as “sticking it to the Man” will be a tough sell, but as you watch the trial, look for them to try to pluck those chords.