With many members of Congress pushing anti-consumer legislation that will destroy protections for the constituents who elected them, NBTA member Benjamin Wagner, president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice, penned an ode to the 7th Amendment of the US Constitution for the Wisconsin Law Journal. The 7th Amendment, included in the Bill of Rights, protects citizens by preserving the right to trial by jury.

The right to a civil jury trial is firmly rooted in the vision of the founders of our state and country. The 7th Amendment emerged from the demands of small-government advocates who were wary of granting too much power to government officials — be they legislators, bureaucrats or judges.

The 7th Amendment was included in the Bill of Rights to ensure local voices would have a role in shaping the laws that governed their lives. Before the War of Independence, colonists were required to follow British laws, over which they had no influence. Colonists, however, could serve on juries. This ability provided a powerful means for early Americans to establish their voice in governance. From this experience, it should be no surprise that the civil jury trial was among the rights that a powerful faction insisted be added to the Constitution. Scholars believe that James Madison drafted the 7th Amendment at the behest of a group that many feared would demand a second Constitutional Convention had it not been included.

Congress is proposing positive-sounding bills such as:

  • Innocent Party Protection Act
  • Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act
  • Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act
  • Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency Act
  • Protecting Access to Care Act

In fact, these bills take away consumer rights and tip the scales in favor of large corporations by eliminating the right to hold them accountable for misdeeds. Read more about these bills.

As Wagner says:

The jury trial does its job without getting caught up in partisan or ideological divides. Trials give communities an opportunity to settle disputes in a way that reflects common values while also being thorough, open, and having minimal reliance on government support.

Trials give citizens a voice long after a verdict is reached. Civil jury trials gather important facts and often help answer ambiguous questions of law and fact. They also establish important guideposts for conduct between citizens and for the resolution of disputes. Every case that is tried allows for countless others to be resolved more efficiently and at lower cost, most often without the need to go to trial. The jury’s voice speaks as loudly in these settlements as it does through its verdicts.

Wagner is NBTA Board Certified in Civil Pretrial and Civil Trial law. You can read his entire column on the 7th Amendment here.