United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse commented in the National Law Journal on the ongoing attacks against the civil jury system through restrictions including forced arbitration, enhanced pleading standards, and restrictions on class actions and punitive damage awards.
"The jury is more than just a means of dispute resolution, just a fact-finding appendage to the court. It is a structural element of our system of separated powers. Alexis de Tocqueville described the civil jury as an "institution of government" and a "form of the sovereignty of the people." The civil jury, according to William Blackstone, "preserves in the hands of the people that share which they ought to have in the administration of public justice, and prevents encroachments of the more powerful and wealthy citizens."
– Sen. Whitehouse, National Law Journal
Sen. Whitehouse noted how the earliest American colonists established juries in the 1600s and the American states "sounded the alarm when the original Constitution was silent on the civil jury, and the Seventh Amendment – which protects the civil jury – was ultimately sent to the states with the Bill of Rights."
In his op-ed, Senator Whitehouse outlines many of the attacks on the 7th Amendment right to jury trial. He also outlines means by which to restore the civil jury's proper place in our democracy. His article is worth a read.
Think about these restrictions in the context of other Amendments or other fundamental rights. Do you have a right to free speech if you are only limited to certain words? Do you have right to bear arms if you are limited only to long bows, pellet guns, and a .22 caliber rifle?
The 7th Amendment right to civil jury is arguably more important than either the 1st or 2nd Amendments. Why? Because the 7th Amendment is the ultimate lynch pin for all other constitutional rights, which is why constitutional conservatives oppose attacks on 7th Amendment rights through tort reform. What is your remedy if someone violates your constitutional rights to free speech, to religious freedom, to keep and bear arms, to contract, etc.? These are civil law (or civil justice) claims in which you take the bad actor to court in order to have your rights protected. What happens when access to courts is limited? What happens when access to court is so lopsided that the average person cannot gain access? What happens when powerful lobbyists control the courts like they control other branches of government?
The 7th Amendment should be a cause that blurs party lines. The 7th Amendment is a cause that should be supported by conservatives and liberals alike. Noted conservative (and member of the Reagan Administration), Andrew Cochran has even outlined 7 reasons why protecting the 7th Amendment should be a Republican and Tea Party priority.
"A breakwater built into our system of government by our nation's founding fathers, the civil jury is designed to stand firm against the tide of influence and money. We allow it to crumble, or be disassembled, at our peril.
– Sen. Whitehouse, National Law Journal
Freedom, Liberty and Civil Justice are issue our founders fought and died for. They are issues that should unite us as citizens rather than divide us as partisans. Join those on both sides of the political aisle in standing up for our Constitution and for preserving Civil Justice rights and accountability.
[More on Your 7th Amendment Rights]
[H/T – Take Justice Back]
- The Dwindling Civil Jury [Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse at The National Law Journal]
- Seven Reasons Why Protecting 7th Amendment Should Be Republican & Tea Party Priority [Andrew Cochran at The 7th Amendment Advocate]
- Defending The 2nd Amendment
- Do You Have A Right of Free Speech If You're Limited Only To Certain Words?
© Copyright 2013 Brett A. Emison
Follow @BrettEmison onTwitter.
Brett Emison is currently a partner at Langdon & Emison, a firm dedicated to helping injured victims across the country from their primary office near Kansas City. Mainly focusing on catastrophic injury and death cases as well as complex mass tort and dangerous drug cases, Mr. Emison often deals with automotive defects, automobile crashes, railroad crossing accidents (train accidents), trucking accidents, dangerous and defective drugs, defective medical devices.