SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday vetoed legislation that would have made California the first state in the nation to allow legal immigrants who are not citizens to serve on juries.
The governor's action runs counter to his recent approval of bills expanding the rights of immigrants, including legislation allowing those in the country illegally to apply for driver's licenses and practice law. Brown said serving on a jury, however, was a high civic duty that should be exclusive to citizens.
"Jury service, like voting, is quintessentially a prerogative and responsibility of citizenship," Brown wrote in his veto message. "This bill would permit lawful permanent residents who are not citizens to serve on a jury. I don't think that's right."
In all, Brown signed 20 bills and vetoed four Monday, with the legislation on immigrant jurors being the most controversial.
The jury bill would have applied to legal permanent residents, those who are issued official cards by the U.S. government often called green cards.
Democratic lawmakers who supported the legislation said it would diversify the jury pool and allow noncitizens facing trial to have a jury that includes their peers. The legislation (AB 1401) was introduced by the Assembly Judiciary Committee, and the governor's veto drew a quick response from its chairman, Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont).
"Lawful permanent immigrants are part of the fabric of our communities, and 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," Wieckowski said in a statement in response to the veto.
"I don't see anything wrong with imposing this civic obligation on immigrants who can spend the rest of their lives in the United States," he added.
The measure had divided the Legislature, with Republicans — including Sen. Joel Anderson of Alpine — arguing that serving as a juror is a special calling that warrants the special standing of citizenship. Other countries have different standards for guilt, innocence and due process, and immigrants who have not gone through the process for gaining citizenship here may not fully understand or commit to U.S. values, opponents of the bill argued.
"Allowing noncitizens to serve on juries threatens the integrity of our judicial system," Anderson said. "In this country, we believe in due process and you're innocent until proven guilty. Having noncitizens on a jury will deny people from getting a fair trial."
Legal experts said the proposal might have prompted appeals of decisions by juries that included noncitizens, but they believed it would have withstood any legal challenge. The Constitution does not require jurors to be citizens. The law has, in the past, prohibited jury service for many other classifications of people, including nonwhites, women and those over 60, experts said.
"I believe that allowing noncitizens who are lawfully present in the United States is a desirable reform for California," said Ingrid Eagly, an assistant professor of law at the UCLA School of Law. "I do not see any legal obstacles to the inclusion of noncitizens on juries in California."
Including green-card holders on juries would probably have resulted in more cases being appealed, said Jody Armour, a law professor at USC specializing in criminal and tort law.
"I can see one of these adversely affected litigants saying jurors can't be a reliable, trustworthy, accurate expositor of community values if they are not a full citizen," Armour said. Still, he speculated that appellate courts probably would have approved noncitizens participating in verdicts.
Brown also vetoed a bill Monday that would have required city managers, city council members and county supervisors to undergo training in financial management.
With cities including San Bernardino and Stockton having filed for bankruptcy protection, the legislation sought to give local officials a better understanding of municipal financing. Assemblyman Richard Gordon (D-Menlo Park), a former county supervisor, wrote the measure, saying, "Fiscal oversight of public entities is both technical and complex."
But Brown objected that it would require a significant investment by the state.
"I believe local governments can impose appropriate financial management training without the aid of the state general fund," Brown wrote in vetoing AB 1235.
The governor also signed:
• A measure by Assemblyman Jim Frazier (D-Oakley) that exempts urban bicycle transportation plans from requirements set by the California Environmental Quality Act, as long as certain conditions are met such as public reviews. San Francisco's bicycle transportation plan was delayed by litigation for several years because challengers said the plan should have been subject to CEQA. This bill, AB 417, would exempt such bike plans until 2018.
• A measure that will allow patients to visit physical therapists for up to 45 calendar days or 12 visits without needing a referral. The bill, AB 1000, is by Wieckowski and Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego).