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Constitutional Matters: Will the Seventh Amendment Survive Past 2017?

Don't you mean the First, Second or Fifth? No. The Seventh.

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The First Amendment on religion and free speech gets plenty of media attention. The Second Amendment divides the country left and right - phrases like "cold dead hands" come to mind. And "pleading the Fifth" is part of the daily lexicon.

This is an under-the-radar constitutional challenge.

Tort reform activists speak of runaway jury awards and frivolous lawsuits as reasons to limit the right to trial by jury as set up by the Seventh Amendment.

Take healthcare, for example. The result of medical malpractice liability caps on damages, which limit the amount an injured patient can receive for pain and suffering - which have already been imposed in some states - has been high-volume medical service schemes, no reduction in medical malpractice premiums (yet higher profits for the insurance companies), less individualized care, and instances of high-potential students pursuing non-medical careers.

The Founders believed in the jury system.

As per the Seventh Amendment:

  • " 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."

The belief that ordinary citizens can assess the facts and apply the law to make reasonable judgments is a hallmark of our constitutional system. A jury is composed of citizens, not special interest groups, of ordinary men and women, not the boards of large corporations.

Of course, the Seventh Amendment - just like the other Amendments - is quite likely to survive past 2017. But this is true only if we remain vigilant in defending the Constitution in its entirety, not just the bits and pieces our political ideologies line up with the most.

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