The Jury Trial: The Seventh Amendment and Idaho’s Constitution Protect Your Rights

The Constitution of the United States often comes under attack from various directions.   Like when special interests try to limit our First Amendment freedoms of religion and press.  Perhaps the most frequently attacked Constitutional right is the Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury.

Among his many offenses against the then colonies, King George the II of England took away the jury rights of Colonists.   Our forefather’s understood this for what it was–a direct attack on their liberty.  Thus, in the Declaration of Independence the removal of “benefits of Trial by Jury” gets listed prominently among the grievances against the King.

Preserving The Right Of Trial By Jury

After the Revolution, our nation’s founders made sure to confirm for all citizens that  “In suits at common law . . . the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.” This is how the right is enshrined in the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution.   It supports the fundamental American value that all people should hold personally responsibility for their actions.   This right makes negligent corporations, careless developers, drunken drivers and child molesters answerable to any ordinary Americans that they damage.  It gives each of us the right to go to the community and hold people  and companies who have done us wrong accountable.

The Idaho State Constitution protects this right to jury trial even more explicitly.  In Section Seven of Article One it provides ” The right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.” And the Constitution also makes clear any  “fact at issue shall be tried by order of court before a jury.”  And in what is known as the Open Court’s clause it states:

Courts of justice shall be open to every person, and a speedy remedy afforded for every injury of person, property or character, and right and justice shall be administered without sale, denial, delay, or prejudice

Attacks On The Right To Trial By Jury

But even in the face of this strong foundation, wealthy corporations and insurance companies have long led the attack against  jury rights of ordinary citizens.  They claim the right to hold bad actors responsible through the civil justice  system should be limited because it is “out of control.”   Such claims are often accompanied by reports of some wacky sounding lawsuit.  Invariably, the real facts of the case are far different than what we are told by these special interests.  Through years of donations they have gotten some politicians to support  (as would have  King George III of England) their anti-Seventh Amendment anti-constitutional anti-jury agenda.

Funny isn’t it that these same interests that want to take away the Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury for individuals never propose limiting the right of corporations to file all the lawsuits they want.  And believe me do they ever pursue some dumb cases.

Juries are empowered to evaluate corporate behavior and hold them responsible for wrong-doing.  And those interests do not want ordinary citizens to have the right to judge them for their wrongdoing in a jury serving as conscience of the community.

As one writer puts it referring to recent events

An oil release from BP imperils the seas, careless financial firms put economies and governments at risk, and a mine in West Virgina (run by a company with a despicable safety record) explodes.

Cereal companies lie about their products’ ability to bolster immunity during an epidemic, cars accelerate for no apparent reason, and pharma companies market birth-control drugs to improve mood and complexion.

The need for corporate liability — not to mention the hypocrisy of “caps” — has never been clearer.

The effort is to get politicians to limit lawsuits so the entities can escape personal and corporate responsibility.  Plain and simple.  Though they claim it is about other things.

There Is No Reason To Limit The Right To Civil Jury Trial

Not that long ago, the Insurance Journal, an insurance industry publication, reported a story that shows our nation’s founders had it right when they protected ordinary citizens with the right to trial by jury.   To quote the article “there is no credible evidence to link the tort system either to the economic ills its critics claim or to the benefits they argue would be produced by altering it.”

The report was based on a study by the Economic Policy Institute an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute.  That study reviewed the economic report that the National Chamber of Commerce and its political allies repeatedly claim shows that the legal system hurts the economy.

The EPI report points out that economic trends of the past 10-15 years are wholly inconsistent with claims that legal costs hurt the economy.  For example, you would never know it to hear those wanting to limit the constitutional rights of individuals but despite our growing population, there are less tort lawsuits now than in the past.  For example, in the nation’s 75 more populous counties, the number of civil trials decreased by 52 percent from 1992 to 2005.  The Department of Justice reported injury cases were down 40 percent.

The Seventh Amendment and the provisions of the Idaho Constitution exist to protect individual citizens.   And Idaho law already expressly prevents frivolous lawsuits in what is called section 12-123 .  If you file or pursue a case frivolously in Idaho you get whacked financially by the Court.

Next time someone tells you that “tort reform” is necessary, tell them you believe in the Seventh Amendment.  Our forefathers fought the King for this right.  Lets protect it. After all, who do you trust more, ordinary people sitting on a jury—or politicians passing special interest laws?

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