Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Patriot's Call to Arms

Of late I have noticed that members of groups claiming to be great patriots--even to the extent of dressing like Paul Revere--are all about following the Constitution of the United States.  Many of them even boast of carrying a copy of the Constitution in their pocket.  This is a call to arms to those who really advocate preserving the ideals embodied in our Constitution and its amendments.

I specifically call attention to Article VII which reads as follows:

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 re-examined 
in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.[1]

For the last several years Republican judges and Republican state legislators, particularly in Texas, have carried on a relentless war against this particular article of the Constitution.  While they lack the courage to admit they wish to diminish justice served up by a jury of one’s peers, they disguise their attack with "good" sounding phrases like "tort reform."  An even more subtle attack is clothed in the piously phrased goal of reducing costs and making justice more accessible to the poor. 

Jury trials, contingent fees, provisions against forced arbitration and consumer protection laws which assure attorneys’ fees and costs against wrongdoers for years in this country have been provisions which allow the weak to stand on an even par, at least for a time, with the wealthy and powerful.  If you take stock of conservative legislators and Republican justices you can easily document the on-going attack against juries.

I offer as evidence the accounting of jury trials which have withstood attacks from insurance companies and super-rich corporations.  At last count, of 23 jury trials which have been appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, approximately 19 of them were reversed, substituting the 9 justices’ opinions for the opinion of 12 citizens who actually heard the facts and saw the witnesses in the case.  A recent case in the Supreme Court of the United States has approved mandating arbitration requirements in employment contracts.  For many years these have been prohibited on public policy grounds.  An individual seeking to be employed by a multi-billion dollar corporation has little standing to object if required to surrender his access to a jury trial for wrongdoing to the prospective employers’ demand that arbitration be substituted for access to the court.  Conservative court opinions have steadily encouraged more and more arbitration in lieu of access to the courthouse.  

Actions under the heading of tort reform and alternate dispute resolution in fact have undermined Article VII of our Constitution.  It demonstrates corporate America's mistrust of American citizens who might serve on juries.  I can only hope that those who love our nation’s Constitution will raise their voices in protest at this outrageous attack on the foundation of our judicial system.

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