By Gibson Vance, President, AAJ
Many members of the newly-elected Congress campaigned long and hard, proclaiming their enthusiasm for and commitment to our Constitution. This group even read the Constitution aloud on the House floor. New House rules were approved requiring that specific constitutional authority be cited to support every piece of legislation proposed in the new Congress. Hopefully, that was more than just political games.
The commitment by the constitutional conservatives to our country’s founding principles has been widely proclaimed. It will be interesting to see if this group will support limiting the 7th Amendment right to trial by jury. The right to a trial by jury for civil suits dates back almost 800 years, to the signing of the Magna Carta. Article 39 of the Magna Carta specifically guaranteed the right to a jury trial for civil suits and criminal cases. The 7th Amendment is as clear as the Liberty Bell when it guarantees the right to a jury trial to every citizen.
Our Founding Fathers also agreed with the importance of a trial by jury. In the words of James Madison, “In suits at common law, trial by jury in civil cases is as essential to secure the liberty of the people as any one of the pre-existent rights of nature.” Other founders were equally adamant about the critical importance of access to civil justice. Thomas Jefferson called civil jury trials, “the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”
But unfortunately, that 7th Amendment right has been the most ignored and endangered of those rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Years of political and legal welfare by the giants of Corporate America, in the name of “economic efficiency”, have succeeded in shredding our rights in a host of areas. Law makers beholden to lobbyists for insurance companies, the drug industry, financial institutions, and entities have for years pushed tort reform- providing immunity to wrongdoers at the expense of American consumers’ 7th Amendment rights.
Americans universally know that the 2nd Amendment protects the rights of the people to keep and bear arms. Our founding fathers had no intention of making the 2nd Amendment more or less important than the 7th, or any other part of the Bill of Rights. We cannot pick and choose which parts of the Constitution to follow or to ignore. It will be up to members of the 112th Congress to fulfill their campaign pledges and protect the Constitution. But some of them may have to be reminded that the 7th Amendment is still around.