Senator Wiener’s SB 271, the Fair Federal Juries Act, Passes Senate Judiciary Committee

January 12, 2022

SACRAMENTO – Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s legislation to create more diverse and representative juries, Senate Bill 271, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in a unanimous, bipartisan vote. SB 271, the Fair Federal Juries Act, will expand jury pools in federal courts in California by allowing them to summon jurors using state tax filing lists. This will help create more diverse and demographically representative juries in federal courts, as jurors are currently selected from narrower lists that are more likely to skew wealthier, whiter and generally less diverse. This legislation builds on SB 592 (Wiener, 2020), which expanded state jury pools. State jury pools had previously been made up of registered voters and licensed drivers or identification card holders. With SB 592, all tax filers in California can be summoned for jury duty in state courts. SB 271 would allow California’s federal courts to do the same.   

To ensure juries – the backbone of our justice system – are actually reflective of their communities, it’s critical that Federal Jury Commissioners be allowed to include a broader, more representative list of Californians as they select jurors.

SB 271 is an important piece of the puzzle of how we can remake our criminal justice system to be fairer and less racially and socioeconomically biased. More representative juries lead to a more equitable criminal justice system, where trials are heard by a more representative cross section of our community. 

Currently, Federal Jury Commissioners only pull potential jurors from lists of those who are registered to vote, and those who have driver’s licenses or identification cards – similar to what California Jury Commissioners did prior to SB 592 becoming law. Studies show that by pulling only from those two lists, courts are deprived of thousands of eligible prospective jurors, and that racial minorities are underrepresented on juries. This underrepresentation denies civil and criminal litigants of a jury pool that truly reflects their communities at large. 

“Diverse juries are absolutely essential to a fair justice system,” said Senator Scott Wiener. “The constitution guarantees the right to a fair trial. Fair and representative juries are key to how we achieve that. When our juries aren’t as diverse as the general population, it leads to a serious equity issue in our criminal justice system. SB 271 simply allows federal courts operating in California to take the same approach that state courts do.”