The Constitutional Right to Justice

Date:October 6, 2014

United States ConstitutionSeptember 17 is designated as Constitution Day to commemorate the signing of the United States Constitution in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787. The preamble of this most precious document states: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The fundamental rights of all Americans are guaranteed in the first ten amendments to the Constitution, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, which include the cornerstone rights enshrined in the First Amendment: freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Also in the Bill of Rights, adopted as the 7th Amendment, is the constitutional right to justice which provides for trial by a jury of one’s peers. History tells us that before 1688, English judges were servants under the King of England. These judges were often biased towards the king, and because of this, their rulings were not always fair. During the Act of Settlement of 1701, English judges won their independence from the king, but judges in the American colonies were still biased towards the king. King George III got rid of trials by juries in the colonies, which made colonists very upset and fueled the fire that led to the American Revolution. When the Framers wrote the Bill of Rights, they understood how important it was to have a fair court system, so they made sure that the right to trial by jury was a fundamental law of the new nation.

Unfortunately, powerful interests launched a campaign to erode the 7th Amendment through an effort known as “tort reform.” A tort is a legal term meaning civil wrongs recognized by law as grounds for a lawsuit. These wrongs result in an injury or harm constituting the basis for a claim by the injured party. A strong effort was launched by these powerful interests, spending millions of dollars to lobby the Congress and the state legislatures to pass laws placing restrictions on the right of injured parties to hold the powerful interests responsible for their negligent conduct, including caps on monetary damages. The very same corporations who make millions and billions of dollars from those who consume their goods and services seek to limit their responsibility when their consumers are injured through no fault of their own. While the facts do not show that our trial by jury system needs to be altered, the powerful interests continue in their efforts to limit our constitutional right to justice.

Fortunately, organizations such as Take Justice Back and Let America Know have fought back to protect the 7th Amendment, to ensure that all Americans continue to have the right to hold powerful interests responsible for their reckless and negligent conduct.  Our time honored right of trial by jury, for which our revolutionary generation and the framers of our Constitution fought so hard, is vital to our democracy. Our Pledge of Allegiance concludes, “With Liberty and Justice for All.” Without the guarantees provided for in the 7th Amendment, the constitutional right to justice cannot be served.

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