By Ron K. Cheng
Every American knows about the First Amendment right to free speech. Everyone has heard about the controversy behind the Second Amendment right to bear arms. These and other rights are often in the forefront of political discussions, reminding us to be active citizens in order to protect our civil liberties.
However, some amendments in the Bill of Rights are less well-known. For example, when was the last time you heard someone talk about your Seventh Amendment rights? Be honest, do you even know what the Seventh Amendment stands for? You should.
The Seventh Amendment reads:
“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.”
In plain English, the Seventh Amendment gives Americans the right to have their problems resolved by a jury of their community. The American judicial system is a unique system in the world that allows everyday members of the community to decide what is or is not fair and hold the government and big businesses responsible for their actions.
Unfortunately, because the Seventh Amendment is not as popular as some of the other amendments, it has been attacked by business interests and lobbying groups throughout the past two decades without much pushback. Who are these mysterious attackers of our civil rights? Have you heard of tort reform? Tort reform is a political movement aimed at keeping Americans out of the courtroom. Tort reformers accomplish this by taking decisions away from juries (such as putting caps on damages); enforcing mandatory arbitration clauses (putting case decisions in the hands of private businesses instead of a fair and impartial jury); and by scaring victims out of the courtroom (by demonizing them as greedy and clumsy individuals that want an easy payday). Tort reformers justify their actions by pointing their fingers at trial lawyers and calling them “ambulance chasers” that bring frivolous lawsuits.
The truth however, is that those frivolous lawsuits seldom ever make it to trial because judges dismiss them. As for these trial attorneys… you can thank them for exposing cigarettes as dangerous and harmful when Phillip Morris was promising everyone that it was safe to smoke. You can thank trial lawyers for airbags that work properly and cars that don’t explode when they get into a car crash. That warning sign on the electric fence? Trial lawyer. How about doctors and nurses washing their hands before they go into surgery? Trial lawyer. Who makes sure asbestos is removed safely from school buildings? That has trial lawyer written all over it. Just about everything that keeps you and your loved ones safe can be attributed to a trial lawyer and a victim who was brave enough to exercise their Seventh Amendment right to challenge multi-million dollar companies.
The thing is, trial lawyers and victims cannot do it alone. It is members of the community who get to sit on a jury and say enough is enough and punish big businesses for taking advantage of the little guy. All of this is possible because of the Seventh Amendment. We need members of the community to care about their right to sue, not make fun of it.
The court system is the ultimate equalizer and it works really well when members of the community participate. The founding fathers of this nation implemented this legal system to keep the government and wealthy aristocrats in check by bringing everyday citizens into the justice system. By limiting the communities’ involvement in the court system, tort reformers have made it easier for corporate greed to succeed. Don’t let that happen. The Seventh Amendment gives all Americans the ability to pursue justice. Everyone needs to stand up for the Seventh Amendment and trial lawyers can’t do it by themselves.