Learn what the founding fathers thought of Jury Service and the 7th Amendment of the US Constitution
Brigham Cluff goes back in history and talks about the founding fathers of the US and their thoughts on Jury Duty.
Start Transcription of What the Founding Fathers thought about the Jury System
Hi, this is Brigham Cluff. This is my sixth video in my series all about Arizona juries, what the Founding Fathers thought about the jury system and the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Juries were of great importance to the founders of our country. It was actually one of the motivating factors that prompted the Revolution to begin with. There was this concern among the Americans that their liberties were being taken away by the King of England. Those liberties included taxation without representation and although it hasn’t received quite as much attention, another issue that was very important was that their jury system was being taken away from them. They were being deprived of the right that they had to serve on juries and to decide the questions of fact that would come in front of courts by themselves.
Rather than they being able to compose the jury, those decisions were being made by courts, by judges appointed by the King, the King’s judges. You can imagine that that created a system where there was a lack of trust in the results that the justice system was producing at that time. The jury system was of tremendous importance to our founders, and it was of such great importance that when our Constitution was adopted and when the Bill of Rights, which was the first 10 amendments to our Constitution, was adopted, the right of a jury system was codified in the Constitution. The Seventh Amendment to the Constitution, one of the original Bill of Rights, rarely gets mentioned these days, but to me, it is of great importance, and it deals with our jury systems.
Now I’m going to read the Seventh Amendment for you, and before you click away, let me just tell you it’s very brief, okay? I’m going to read the Seventh Amendment for you and then I’m going to discuss what it means. The Seventh Amendment says, “In suits at common law,” and that’s personal injury cases, by the way. Common law includes things like negligence. “In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed $20, 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 other according to the rules of the common law.” That’s it. That’s the Seventh Amendment.
The right of trial by jury shall be preserved. What that means is these cases are not going to be decided by a judge or by a panel of bureaucrats or by Congress. It’s going to be decided by a jury. A jury is composed of the citizenry. That’s all of us. We decide what happens in these cases. We decide the questions of fact. Now, in the law, there are issues that get divided into 2 different categories, questions of fact and questions of law. Questions of law get answered by the judges. Questions of fact get answered by juries.
What is a question of fact? I’ll give you an example of a question of fact which is one of the most important questions of fact that you come across in a personal injury case, which is, how much is this case worth? That is a question that gets answered by a jury. How much is the case worth? That’s a question of fact. The Seventh Amendment says that this right of trial by jury shall be preserved and that once that fact is tried to a jury, it’s not going to be re-examined. A group of legislators, Congress, they’re not going to re-examine that fact. A group of bureaucrats, they’re not going to re-examine the fact. The jury answers that fact. That’s in the Constitution.
I’m a big fan of the Constitution. I love the Constitution. In my humble opinion, it is an inspired document, and it codifies some of our most precious liberties. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms. Right there in the Bill of Rights along with those high and holy liberties that we have in this country is this right of controversies to be tried to a jury. It was that important to our Founding Fathers that they included it in the original Bill of Rights.
A contemporary, or someone who preceded them in time by only a short time, was a great legal scholar in England by the name of Sir William Blackstone. There was a beautiful quote by Sir William Blackstone regarding the importance of juries to our justice system. Here’s what he said. “Every new tribunal erected for the decision of facts without the intervention of a jury is a step towards establishing aristocracy, the most oppressive of absolute governments.” Our jury system is what protects us from that.
Please watch all of my videos in my series all about Arizona juries and I’d be happy to have feedback from you and I’ll reply to any comments that I receive.