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SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California Gov. Jerry Brown used his veto power to kill a bill that would have made California the first state in the nation to allow non-citizens who are in the country legally to serve as jurors.
Brown, who signed a slew of immigration reform bills the past week and became a sort of champion for undocumented immigrants, decided this bill went too far -- and he went against his own party to veto the bill.
"Jury service, like voting, is quintessentially a prerogative and responsibility of citizenship," Brown said in an announcement Monday accompanying his veto of AB1401. "This bill would permit lawful permanent residents who are not citizens to serve on a jury. I don't think that's right."
The bill had passed the Legislature on a largely party-line vote, with Democrats supporting the idea to expand the pool of prospective jurors. Republicans said the lack of available jurors in California courts is due to a shortage of funding, not due to an insufficient pool of jurors.
The bill's sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski of Fremont, said in a statement that lawful immigrants are part of the fabric of communities and should be included in such civic obligations.
"They benefit from the protections of our laws, so it is fair and just that they be asked to share in the obligation to do jury duty, just as they serve in our courts, schools, police departments and armed forces," he said.
Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, said the legislation was an effort to solve a problem that does not exist, because there is no shortage of people who can be called upon to serve on juries.
"The debate over this bill attempted to create a social wedge in our communities over our justice system," Chavez said in a statement Monday. "The phrase 'jury of your peers' still means something in our criminal justice system."
An estimated 10 million Californians are summoned for jury duty each year and about 4 million are eligible and available to serve, according to the Judicial Council, which administers the state's court system. About 3.2 million complete the service, meaning they waited in a courthouse assembly room or were placed on call.
In 2010-2011, the most recent year available, only about 165,000 people were sworn in as jurors.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.