The American Jury

"The American Jury" (1998-2000) involved two projects of the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago: "The American Jury: Past and Present" in Illinois and the natural expansion, "The American Jury: The Bulwark of Democracy," that  focused on the jury system in the United States, its role in American legal, social, and political life; its origins and history; its adaptations to changes in law and American society; its strengths and limitations; and its function as a mediating institution between the people and their government. The American Jury involved high school teachers from California, Colorado, North Carolina, Washington, Wisconsin, and Illinois in cooperation with national experts and scholars on the jury system. Participating teachers field-tested in their classrooms both materials from the institute and lessons they developed from their own research. Participants also presented information from the project at local, state, regional, and national staff development conferences.

Both "The American Jury: Bulwark of Democracy" and "The American Jury: Past and Present" were supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency, and they were hosted and co-sponsored by the Chicago Historical Society.  Many of the units and lessons developed as part of this project are available on CRFC's free teaching materials page on this site.

Project Objectives

"The American Jury" was designed to deepen teacher understanding of the history, structure, challenges, and purpose of the American jury system by:

  •     discussing the relationship of a democratic society to its legal institutions;
  •     assessing the strengths and limitations of the American jury system in comparison to legal traditions in other  countries; and
  •     probing current issues of fairness, efficacy, the rule of law, and democratic consent.

"The American Jury" also was designed to enhance educators' skills for teaching the American jury system with students by:

  •     introducing texts, resources, and lessons for classroom use;
  •     providing skills and strategies for the conduct and assessment of civil discourse;
  •     offering guidance and feedback on the design of lesson plans and assessment tools; and
  •     creating opportunities for professional discussion and reflection.