The Seventh Amendment to the US Constitution and provisions of most state constitutions guarantee citizens the right of trial by jury in common-law civil cases. But it is beyond dispute that the civil jury trial is a vanishing feature of the American legal landscape. In 1962, juries resolved 5.5 percent of federal civil cases; since 2005, the rate has been below 1 percent. In 1997, there were 3,369 civil jury trials in Texas state courts; in 2012, even as the number of lawsuits had risen substantially, there were fewer than 1,200. Similar trends are evident in states across the nation.
What are the causes of the civil jury trial’s near extinction? What are the consequences—for the legal system and society more broadly? And for those who advocate preserving and revitalizing the civil jury trial, what steps might be taken? These will be the core areas of inquiry for the new Civil Jury Project at NYU School of Law.
The nationwide decline in civil jury trials means that fewer cases have the benefit of citizen input, fewer case precedents develop, fewer jurors understand the system, and fewer judges and lawyers learn how to try jury cases effectively. That is to say, it’s a serious problem. But what can you do about it?
Here are three recommendations for how you can help stave off the creeping collapse of one of our nation’s most essential institutions:
First, tell your friends about America’s disappearing juries. There has been a myth in this country—mostly propagated by powerful social and political interests—of an explosion in so-called “frivolous” litigation over the last 30 years. This is simply not true. Enemies of the jury system use this misconception to promote their agenda and pass restrictions on your rights. Remind your fellow citizens that jury service is as important a form of democratic participation as voting.
Second, pay attention to your local and state politics. Part of what has caused the long decline in jury trials is the result of tort reform legislation around the nation. We will do our best to bring attention to legislative attacks on the civil jury, but you can also search online to track developments. Many states post proposed legislation online while it is still being discussed. Do not hesitate to contact your representative and tell them not to trample your Seventh Amendment rights.
Finally, follow the Civil Jury Project at New York University School of Law here and on social media. The Civil Jury Project is the nation’s only non-profit academic institution dedicated exclusively to studying and bettering the civil jury and raising public awareness of its troubling decline. You can follow us on Twitter , Facebook , and Instagram to find out about our events, research. If we work together, we can help secure the liberty promised and guaranteed by the Seventh Amendment for a future generation.