There are few democratic institutions in America more embattled than the civil justice system. No matter what one thinks of "tort reform," the political term often used to describe laws to weaken this system, one thing is clear: For the last 35 years, questions about the future of civil juries have been dumped on the plate of Congress and every statehouse in America. Many legislatures have been pressured to undermine the civil jury system by restricting access to the courts and limiting juries' power and authority. We are seeing more proposals to limit the right to jury trial than ever before.
If the framers of our Constitution were alive today, they would be appalled by this development. Our nations' founders considered the right to trial by jury in civil cases to be one of our most important rights. In virtually every major document and speech delivered before the Revolution, the colonists portrayed trial by jury as, if not their greatest right, one that was indispensable. The right to civil jury trial was a key issue over which the American Revolution was fought. It was so essential to our nation's founders that they preserved it directly in the Bill or Rights as the 7th Amendment. In a 1979 case, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist explained: