As part of their public safety planning in the wake of the pandemic, a number of courts across the United States are beginning to require that jurors for in-person trials be vaccinated against COVID-19. That is a perfectly sensible policy. But it raises complex ancillary issues about the makeup of the jury pool once unvaccinated — but otherwise eligible — citizens are excluded from jury service.
An editorial in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly articulates the problem:
Barring unvaccinated individuals could, in some parts of the state, make it more difficult to secure enough prospective jurors. It could also skew the jury pool, leading to more homogenous and less diverse juries.
Generally speaking, vaccinated Americans are more likely to be older, female, white, college-educated and liberal in their political leanings, while unvaccinated Americans are more likely to be younger, conservative, male or people of color.
In Massachusetts, statistics show that in cities such as Brockton, Lowell, Springfield and Worcester the percentages of Black and Hispanic individuals who are vaccinated are well under 50 percent, and the percentages of vaccinated individuals in their 20s are significantly lower than is the case for older people.
As the editorial further notes, there is no constitutional bar to excluding unvaccinated individuals, since they are not being denied the chance to perform jury service on the basis of race, gender, religion, or another protected category. But it could skew the jury pool away from the reasonable cross-section of the community.
There is also the perverse satisfaction that some might take in knowing that being unvaccinated gets them out of jury service. Perhaps such jurors should still be required to serve on virtual –or even outdoor — trials, if the demand for such proceedings continues.