As we all know, the U.S. jury system has been under constant attack for at least the last 30 years. Some of our current leaders don’t seem to understand how important the U.S. civil jury system has been over the years. Neither do they seem to grasp the importance of preserving it for this and future generations. I thought it might be a good idea to see how some of our Nation’s more well-known statesmen from years past felt about the importance of the jury system and the right to a trial by jury. Let’s see what each had to say.
The founders of our nation considered the right of trial by jury in civil cases an important bulwark against tyranny and corruption, a safeguard too precious to be left to the whim of the sovereign. Juries represent the layman’s common sense and thus keep the administration of law in accord with the wishes and feelings of the community.”
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist (1979)
The provisions of the Bill of Rights that safeguard fair legal procedures came about largely to protect the weak and the oppressed from punishment by the strong and the powerful who wanted to stifle the voices of discontent raised in protest against oppression and injustice in public affairs.
–Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black
A native Alabamian (1963)
Freedom of religion; freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected. These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and the blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith.”
First Inaugural Address (1801)
Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty. Without them we have no other fortification against being ridden like horses, fleeced like sheep, worked like cattle and fed and clothed like swine and hounds.
–John Adams (1774)
I have carefully examined the evidences of the Christian religion, and if I was sitting as a juror upon its authenticity I would unhesitatingly give my verdict in its favor. I can prove its truth as clearly as any proposition ever submitted to the mind of man.
Trial by jury is the best appendage of freedom by which our ancestors have secured their lives and property. I hope we shall never be induced to part with that excellent mode of trial.
Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel.
–Patrick Henry (1788)
The protection of life and property, habeas corpus, trial by jury, the right of an open trial, these are principles of public liberty existing in the best form in the republican institutions of this country.
Daniel Webster (1848)
Trial by jury must be preserved. It is the best system ever invented for a free people in the world’s history.
–Dean John Henry Wigmore (1929)
Trial by judge and jury is immensely superior to any other mode of trial that the wit of man has ever devised; and evil will be the hour when the people of this country supinely acquiesce in its invasion or consent to its abolition.
–Judge Henry Clay Caldwell, U.S. Court of Appeals (1899)
The right of trial by jury is expressly secured by the Seventh Amendment. The U. S. Supreme Court has always guarded this constitutional right with jealousy.
–U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stanley Matthews (1885)
The absence of any provision respecting the mode of trial in civil actions was so generally regarded as endangering the right of trial by jury, and evoked so much criticism on that ground, that the first Congress proposed the Seventh Amendment, which was promptly ratified.
–U.S. Supreme Court Justice Willis Van Devanter (1913)
A gentleman from England, who was an inspiration to his country during the dark days of World War II, also recognized the importance of the jury system. Winston Churchill had this to say:
The jury system has come to stand for all we mean by English justice, for as long as every case must be scrutinized by twelve honest men and women, both the plaintiff and the defendant alike have a safeguard from arbitrary perversion of the law.
–Winston Churchill (1956)
I have to wonder what has happened in modern times to motivate some public officials to work hard to destroy the jury system. Could it be that powerful corporations – and the super rich – don’t want to be held accountable for their wrongdoing? Hopefully, that’s not the case, but I have to wonder!