Melissa Schwartzberg, “Civil Juries and Democratic Legitimacy” (February 25)

Melissa Schwartzberg, New York University
“Civil Juries and Democratic Legitimacy”
Thursday, February 25 @ 4:30pm, Room 5409, The Graduate Center
co-sponsored by SPTSA: Social and Political Theory Student Association


The civil jury is often criticized as incompetent, particularly in its capacity to address complex technical matters. Yet the reasons why we still (should) find civil juries normatively attractive, and regard its decisions as authoritative, provide important insights into democratic legitimacy. In this paper, I argue that the epistemic claim for the civil jury – especially with respect to the tort of negligence – is an egalitarian one. In negligence trials, the civil jury is tasked with answering questions that we have good reason to believe ordinary citizens are best situated to judge, pertaining to community standards of care. I claim that that the general structure of decision-making on the civil jury and the justifications for these institutional features are capable of traveling to different political domains. On this basis, I defend a distinctive account of democratic legitimacy, termed “judgment democracy,” which evades significant criticisms leveled at many epistemic and proceduralist theories of democratic legitimacy, while retaining some of their most attractive features.


Melissa Schwartzberg is Associate Professor of Politics at New York University. She is the author of two books, Democracy and Legal Change (Cambridge, 2007) and Counting the Many: The Origins and Limits of Supermajority Rule (Cambridge, 2014), as well as numerous articles in leading journals. She currently holds an Andrew W. Mellon “New Directions” Fellowship (2013-2016), and serves as the co-editor of NOMOS, the annual yearbook of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy.