The last Showcase Panel at this year’s National Convention of the Federalist Society focused on “Ideas for Structural Change,” including “reviving the right to civil jury trials.” Among the panel participants was Gibson Vance, shareholder at the Beasley Allen law firm and current President of the American Association for Justice (AAJ), the largest trial lawyers’ association in the world. He spoke on AAJ’s dedication to promoting the 7th Amendment, the importance of the 7th Amendment to plaintiffs across the country and current dangers to our unalienable right to civil jury trials. I’ve attached the full text of his remarks here. UPDATE: The Federalist Society posted video and audio of the panel here, and Gibson Vance’s remarks begin around the 44-minute mark.
Here are selected quotes from Gibson Vance’s remarks:
“Many organizations in Washington support various issues, but we care about only one: supporting and defending the 7th Amendment to the Constitution…. the Right to a Trial by Jury. The 7th Amendment guides every position we take. The issues we support, as well as the one’s we oppose, are all based on their consistency with the spirit and intent of the 7th Amendment.”
“The right to a trial by jury for civil suits dates almost 800 years, to the signing of the Magna Carta. Article 39 of the Magna Carta specifically guaranteed the right to a jury trial for civil suits and criminal cases, and our Founding Fathers also agreed with the importance of a trial by jury. In the words of James Madison, whose silhouette is your symbol, (said,) ‘In suits at common law, trial by jury in civil cases, is as essential to secure the liberty of the people, as any one of the pre-existent rights of nature.'”
“Pre-dispute, mandatory, binding arbitration, directly endangers the 7th Amendment. Recently, my family placed my 98-year-old Grandmother in a nursing home. During the admissions process, the first document we were asked to sign had nothing to do with my Grandmother’s health, treatment, or even the cost of her care…it was a forced arbitration clause, waiving her right to a jury trial for any and all acts…including wrongful death. Certainly this is not what our forefather’s had in mind. The pre-dispute forced arbitration process, found in virtually all consumer and employment contracts, is very often skewed in favor of corporations and against the interest of consumers and employees.”
“Today, I present a challenge: for those in attendance who may support so-called “tort reform,” please consider how this conflicts with the principles of limited government you also promote. In many ways, the concept of ‘tort reform’ is an assault on states’ rights and individual freedom.”
“My ultimate goal as president of AAJ is to raise the profile of the 7th Amendment. Americans universally know that the 2nd Amendment protects the right of the people to bear arms. Our Founding Fathers had no intention of making the 2nd Amendment more or less important than the 7th, or any other part of the Bill of Rights. It is up to groups like AAJ, and the Federalist Society, to educate lawmakers, the legal community, and the public that we cannot pick and choose which parts of the Constitution to follow or to ignore.”