Tomorrow I will be in Nashville, TN, to promote the universal right to civil jury trials, standing alongside the Tennessee Association for Justice and Susan Saladoff, producer of the documentary movie, Hot Coffee, which tells the truth about the famous McDonald’s “hot coffee” case. As I mentioned in an interview with the Tennessee Public News Service, the “tort reform” side has mythologized that case, completely distorting the facts. Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, rebutted those myths with actual facts in a December WorldNetDaily piece on the unconsitutionality of federal tort reform. I’m very pleased that Judson will join us tomorrow in Nashville.
It’s critical that Americans learn of the importance that the Founding Fathers gave to the right to civil jury trials for all causes and in all courts, state and federal. Historian Pauline Maier’s book, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788, has drawn rave reviews from a number of conservative legal scholars. Randy Barnett called it “marvelous” and described it as “the first comprehensive narrative of the ratification of the U.S Constitution, from the Philadelphia convention, through each of the states (in order of deliberation) and the drafting and adoption of the first 10 amendments.” So I downloaded it on Kindle and searched for references to the right to a civil jury trial. And the book refers to a number of instances in which the states discussed and debated the need to protect that right in explicitly in the Bill of Rights after the delegates to the Constitutional Convention rejected motions to do so in the Constitution.
The benefit of the right to civil jury trials and the need to protect that right was a part of numerous state ratification conventions. For instance, the delegates to the Pennsylvania ratification delegation entered into a heated argument over whether Sweden had utilized, and then eliminated, civil jury trials and the impact on civil justice, which was resolved only when a commentary by the English jurist William Blackstone proved that civil jury trials had been commonplace thoughout Europe. The book documents similar debates in Connecticut and Virginia, the latter resolved by reference to the same Blackstone commentary that determined the debate in Pennsylvania. No less a patriot than Patrick Henry argued that the lack of explicit protection of jury trials for civil and criminal cases would lead to the loss of all rights. It was these debates that eventually led James Madison to propose the inclusion of what became the Seventh Amendment in the package of constitutional amendments proposed during the first Congress. And as I’ve documented in posts here, most state constitutions explicitly protect the right to civil jury trials.
I hope tomorrow’s events in Nashville will be a springboard to a nationwide discussion on the meaning of the Seventh Amendment and the need to protect the God-given right to civil jury trials in state and federal courts. It’s clear from the documentation of the state ratification conventions that the Founders did not intend to see this precious right limited or eliminated in state courts.