In the current political landscape, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders share a message that “the People” are not being heard. Both campaigns have, albeit through different messages, positioned themselves as “outsiders,” attempting to appeal to clear anti-establishment sentiments in the county. Many Americans seem to feel that they don’t have a voice in the direction of the United States. But we wonder, are Americans aware of the opportunities they have to make their voices heard in the government? This is just one of many questions that Justice Sotomayor touched on when she visited NYU Law School in February.
The right of the people to civil jury trials is guaranteed in the 7th Amendment, and is essential in securing the People’s liberty. Many of the arguments made against jury trials today were well known inconveniences when the Bill of Rights was added as a condition of ratification of the Constitution. The delegates were well aware that jury trials could be costlier, more labor-intensive, and might take longer compared to bench trials, but they still considered jury trials a necessary protection from the tyranny of the government. Importantly, juries were considered important throughout the Bill of Rights, (in the 5th, 6th, and 7th Amendments) not only to ensure justice for the parties or the criminal defendant, but to ensure liberty and participation of United States citizens. Put another way, the Bill of Rights protects our right to be jurors.
On February 8th, 2016, in front of a packed auditorium at NYU Law School, Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor sat down with the Executive Director of the NYU Civil Jury Project, Stephen Susman, Co-founder of Susman Godfrey LLP, to discuss the current state of civil jury trials in the United States. Justice Sotomayor is uniquely positioned to comment on jury trials, as she is the only sitting Supreme Court Justice with direct jury experience—having presided over jury trials as a federal judge and previously participated in jury trials as a trial lawyer.
In the current issue of The Jury Expert, we discuss the constitutional right to civil jury trials in light of the current political landscape. We offer the historical context of the civil jury system, current day scholars’ perspectives on the jury system, and Justice Sotomayor’s thoughts from her interview at NYU on the importance of the jury system today. We also address steps to encourage people to utilize the constitutional rights to have their voices heard.