By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill on Monday that would have allowed non-citizen legal immigrants to serve on juries in the most populous U.S. state, saying that such service was an obligation that went along with citizenship.
"This bill would permit lawful permanent residents who are not citizens to serve on a jury," Brown, a Democrat, said in his veto message. "I don't think that's right."
The bill was one of several passed by the California legislature this year as part of a rapid expansion of immigrant rights in the coastal state that has included allowing illegal immigrants to drive legally and practice law.
The bill's sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, likened the rules disqualifying immigrants who are permanent residents from jury service to long-discarded laws that kept blacks and women from serving.
"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," Wieckowski, who represents the San Francisco suburb of Fremont, said in a statement on Monday.
"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," he said.
The bill drew strong opposition from Republicans in the legislature, even those who signed on to other immigration reforms, as well as from some moderate Democrats.
Rocky Chavez, a Republican who represents part of San Diego County, said during debate on the measure that allowing non-citizens on juries could deprive defendants of their right to have their cases decided by a jury of their peers.
"Not everywhere is innocent until proven guilty," Chavez said. "In some countries, it's guilty until proven innocent."
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)