(I posted the following onTea Party Nationyesterday, summarizing several original posts here, but TPN restricts reading to registered members, so here it is.)
Who will stand up to protect our unalienable right to a jury trial for civil suits, which is supposed to be protected under the 7th Amendment to the Constitution? That was a right fought for by English peasants on the plains at Runymede in 1215, and protected by Article 39 of the Magna Carta, the charter for English law and then American constitutional democracy. The Founding Fathers wrote early and often, explicitly supporting our right to bring our civil claims before a jury of our peers. Some quotes:
“I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” — Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Paine
“By a declaration of rights I mean one which shall stipulate freedom of religion, freedom of the press, trial by juries in all cases…” — Thomas Jefferson to Alexander Donald
“The civil jury is a valuable safeguard to liberty.” — Alexander Hamilton
“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.” — James Madison
But today the right to a civil jury trial is under constant attack, steadily eroding our ability to protect our rights and hold others accountable for their actions. Conservatives and Tea Partiers should support the civil justice system for all kinds of reasons, such as to protect religious liberty, gun rights and the unborn; punish terrorist financiers; limit the power of bureaucrats, and ensure local control.
And who will uphold the 10th Amendment and ensure that state laws and jury decisions aren’t overruled by federal law through pre-emption? The 7th and 10th Amendments are joined at the hip; pre-emption of state jury decisions erodes both amendments and enhances federal agencies’ power at the expense of average Americans.
Tea Partiers might be surprised to find out that there’s one profession in America that depends completely on the exercise of rights protected by the 7th and 10th Amendments. It’s the trial lawyers, who depend on the access to civil justice at the state and federal level to defend our rights through civil suits. And it’s not just those who work in law firms filing lawsuits over product liability or personal injury. Trial lawyers working for non-profit groups sue to protect believers who want to practice their faith; they protect property owners from land-grabbing municipalities. Gibson Vance, the President of the American Association for Justice, the largest trial lawyers’ association in the world, spoke at the National Convention of the Federalist Society on November 20. Mr. Vance discussed the history of the right to civil jury trials, as protected in the 7th Amendment of the Constitution, and the current dangers to our rights through mechanisms such as federal preemption of state jury decisions.
Last week, Mr. Vance reiterated many of those points in an article posted on the Huffington Post, titled “Constitutional Conservatives and the 7th Amendment.” He urged newly elected Congressmen from the ranks of Constitutional conservatives and Tea Party members to protect our 7th Amendment rights in future votes. You can read the entire article there, and here are some excerpts:
The constitutional conservatives’ stated commitment to our country’s founding principles is at this point widely known. But what is not widely known is where this group will come down regarding “tort reform” – or limiting people’s 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.
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.”
Votes on tort reform will be one of the first true tests of newly-elected Constitutional Conservatives. In fact, the House will vote on Wednesday to repeal the health care reform law and take steps toward creating an alternative plan that would include limiting the legal rights of patients. These members should consider how this idea conflicts with the limited government they promote.
The concept of tort reform is an assault on states’ rights and individual freedom. Though politics may try to disguise our commonalities, constitutional conservatives claim adherence to very similar principles as do trial attorneys: preserving and promoting individual liberty, responsibility and the rule of law.
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.
Any Congress, whether run by Democrats or Republicans, which tries to impose “tort reform” or “medical malpractice reform” to limit our right to seek trial by jury for our civil suits, is actually acting against the express desires of the Founding Fathers and subverting our Constitution. If we’re going to oppose ObamaCare, which would tell us which doctors we can and cannot use, we should also oppose federal tort reform, under which Uncle Sam could tell us which doctors we can’t sue when they screw up.