As election season ramps up to full gear, we hear political debate about many of our rights. Most folks know where many of our rights as U.S. citizens come from — the Bill of Rights, which are the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Most of us are familiar with the 1st Amendment, which deals with freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press. In times when children are murdered across the globe for what they say and wear, most of us realize this is our most fundamental freedom. Maybe that's why it came first.
Most of us in Arkansas believe in a strong 2nd Amendment, which is the right to bear arms.
The 7th Amendment is in the Bill of Rights. It says:
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
There is no doubt that the 7th Amendment guarantees the right to a trial by jury. It also says that factual findings by juries cannot be second-guessed by courts. (Similarly, Article 2, Section 7 of the Arkansas Constitution guarantees Arkansans the right to a trial by jury.)
What is the role of a jury? It is to listen to the facts when parties have a dispute, to decide which facts to believe and which to disbelieve, and to judge what is the right solution to the dispute between the parties. A jury is the way common citizens can have their peers hear all the facts and resolve disputes. Our jury system is a cornerstone of our democracy, and it is what separates us from other countries around the world.
Why is this important? Because the 7th Amendment is under attack. Some special interest groups, such as the Koch Brothers, are hard at work lobbying Arkansas lawmakers to place limits on how juries can decide cases. This is called "tort reform," and it is designed to take power out of the hands of ordinary Americans. Instead of having ordinary citizens decide disputes, tort reform laws would place artificial boundaries on how juries can decide cases.
This is bad for America.
In our neighboring state of Texas, even Fox News has recognized that tort reform has unintended consequences (we've previously reported on this here and here). Doctor groups and former Republican senators, among others, have come out against tort reform because it takes power away from the people. The BP oil spill in 2010 shows that liability caps remove incentives for companies to put safety first.
At its core, the jury system is about ordinary citizens holding others responsible when they make mistakes or intentionally break the law. It is about justice in an individual case — not a one-size-fits-all rule imposed by government. Any attack on the jury system is an attack on personal responsibility — if the at-fault party can't be held responsible, then too often the burden falls on the taxpayer to foot the bill.
All 10 Amendments in the Bill of Rights are important, not just 1 or 2. All 10. During this election season, please remind your lawmakers that you want to conserve the jury system in Arkansas, just the way it is.