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Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP | Mar 7, 2017

Why Should The NRA Care About The 7th Amendment?

Categories: Civil Rights

The NRA and its members jealously guard against any attempts to infringe on 2nd Amendment rights. But the NRA and its members should be equally concerned and vocal about what the Republican controlled House of Representatives is doing to citizens’ 7th Amendment right to a jury trial.

The 2nd Amendment, of course, states, as relevant here, that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” The 7th Amendment, ratified at the same time in the Bill of Rights, states that “In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.”

Republicans in Congress will soon be rushing to pass House Bill H.R.1215, without any testimony or debate. Among other things, this bill will deprive citizens of their right to have a jury decide the amount of damages in medical malpractice cases. It will also require that damages owed the injured party in such suits be doled out over many years, as opposed to when the jury decides the case.

Keep in mind that this is the federal Congress taking away the right of citizens in state courts. This kind of federal intrusion ought to be anathema to conservative lawmakers and their supporters.

Why should the NRA and its constituents care? Because if Congress can eviscerate this clearly stated Constitutional right, the next Congress can justify like treatment for the right to bear arms.

Supporters of these attacks on 7th Amendment rights will argue there is still a jury trial for these claims; the Bill “just” limits the amount of damages the jury may determine. At the time the 7th Amendment was ratified, however, there were no limits on a citizen’s right to have a jury decide damages. And, the Amendment states the right shall be preserved – that is, kept as it existed.

Simply stated, a jury that cannot decide the amount of damage owed a citizen is like a gun without bullets. I doubt gun owners would find legislation banning bullets acceptable because it did not prohibit gun ownership.

Thomas Jefferson recognized that the jury is the epitome of government by the people and that trial by jury is “the only way to ensure a long-continued and honest administration of [governmental] powers.” We dismantle the 7th Amendment at our peril.