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Farrell Dobbs

Smith Act Prosecution
of CP Starts March 7

(1 March 1949)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 10, 7 March 1949, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcription & Mark-up: Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

FROM THE FEDERAL COURTROOM, NEW YORK, March 1 – Judge Medina today arbitrarily ended the defense challenge of the federal jury system and indicated that selection of the jury for the thought-control trial of the 11 Stalinists will begin Mar. 7.

The defense has presented a large body of compelling evidence to prove that federal jury panels are systematically packed with representatives of the rich. Workers and Negroes have only token representation on these panels, which is worse than outright exclusion, because it is underhanded concealment of an actual policy of exclusion.

The government prosecutor has sought to defend the anti-democratic jury system with the slick argument that so long as there is not total exclusion of a class of people, a “disproportion” between classes is entirely legal.

Under that shameful theory the prosecutor has got the judge to throw out whole chunks of evidence showing how juries are rigged. Acting on his own, the judge first halted presentation of evidence by the defense, then cut off their cross-examination of government witnesses, and finally stopped the whole challenge proceedings.

Medina’s Decision

Judge Medina will announce his decision on the jury challenge on Mar. 4. He made clear what that decision will be when he accused the defense of “leading misguided people to believe there is discrimination and corruption in the jury system.”

Chief Judge John C. Knox, main organizer of the jury system in this district, was called to the witness stand today. He brazenly declared that jurors have been and “will continue to be handpicked” to get “fairminded” persons. Here is the way his system has worked as revealed by the evidence:

Judge Knox, himself a banker on the side, appointed as Jury Commissioner a corporation lawyer who is also a director in several corporations. For Jury Clerk he picked a “pleasing young man” who knows about the geographic distribution of social, racial and economic groups.

The Jury Clerk works hand-in-glove with the Federal Grand Jury Association, a private organization that receives duplicate copies of official jury records; furnishes preferred lists of jurors to the Jury Clerk; provides grand jurors with a special handbook telling them how to act; and publishes for circulation among jurors, judges and prosecutors a periodical called the Federal Juror.

This private organization, dominated by bankers and corporation directors, exists for the sole purpose of handpicking jurors. Yet Judge Medina ruled that its “internal affairs” have no bearing on the jury system.

The judge also ruled that official government documents describing the workings of the federal jury system must be kept “confidential” in the interests of the “administration of justice.”

Despite these legal blocks thrown up to defend jury-rigging, many damning facts were brought to light.

Jury panels have been selected mainly from directories of business executives and college graduates, Who’s Who, the Social Register, and from the silk-stocking districts through the use of a special address telephone directory.

Special “Colored Lists” are used to make token selections of Negro business and professional people.

The grand jurors who indicted the Stalinists under the Smith Act, turned out to be bankers, corporation directors, brokers, wholesalers, an editor, and the wife of a police sergeant. None were Negroes. They had served on an average of four grand juries apiece in a city of eight million people.

Panels from which trial juries are drawn were shown to be similarly packed with agents of the rich, with only token representation of workers and Negroes.

Workers are kept off juries because they tend to assert their class instincts, even though they may not be fully class conscious. Reflecting their own experiences, workers show sympathy toward defendants they recognize to be their own kind. But they tend to be hostile toward those who plainly represent the unjust system of oppression under which they live.

Who doubts where a workerjuror’s sympathy would lie when an injured worker is suing a corporation for compensation? Or how a union man would decide the case of a worker framed up in a strike? Or that an underpaid worker would vote to convict a corporation caught evading taxes?

These class instincts are asserted even more fully in the case of a Negro worker on a jury. For he is doubly exploited and oppressed under capitalism, both as a worker and as a Negro.

The opposite holds true for bankers, industrialists and others who are living well under capitalism. Their sympathy lies with the corporation in an injury-compensation case They go very easy on corporation tax-evaders. But they usually want to throw the book at a framed-up striker.

The laws of the land are drafted in favor of the rich and against the workers. The juries, in turn, are generally packed with representatives of the rich.

That is why so many workers are imprisoned on charges of violating “property rights” of the capitalists, while so many capitalists are able to plunder the national wealth and go scot-free.

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