Friday, February 18, 2011

The Importance of Trial by Jury

"Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty."
- John Adams (1774)

"[Trial by jury is] a privilege of the highest and most beneficial nature [and] our most important guardian both of public and private liberty. The liberties of England cannot but subsist so long as this palladium remains sacred and inviolate, not only from all open attacks, . . . but also from all secret machinations, which may sap and undermine it."
- Justice William Blackstone (1765)

"All attempts to tinker or tamper with trial by jury in civil causes should be discouraged as disastrous to the public welfare."
- ABA President Joseph Coate (1898)

"Trial by jury must be preserved: not as a mere formality, stripped of its discretion by arbitrary and inflexible rules dictated by the captains of commerce and industry for the furtherance of their own selfish interest, but free to search out and find the truly essential justice of each individual case."
- J. Kendall Few, In Defense of Trial by Jury (1992)

"Trial by jury is the most rational and effective method for discovering the truth."
- Sir John Fortescue, Chief Justice of the King's Bench (1468)

"The friends and adversaries of the plan of the convention . . . concur . . . in the value they set upon the trial by jury; the former regard it as a valuable safeguard to liberty; the latter represent it as the very palladium of free government."
- Alexander Hamilton (1788)

"The jury system is the handmaid of freedom. It catches and takes on the spirit of liberty, and grows and expands with the progress of constitutional government. Rome, Sparta and Carthage fell because they did not know it, let not England and America fall because they threw it away."
- Charles S. May (1875)

Thank you to all who take the time to serve.  You are contributing to our Democracy and keeping representative government alive.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Our Justice System Is Imperfect Because We Are Imperfect

Since February is Black History Month I thought it would be appropriate to look back at the Dred Scott decision of 1857. Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 US 393 (Supreme Court 1857). In this decision our Supreme Court was to decide whether a person with an ancestry traced back to slavery could become a citizen of the United States.

The Court concluded they could not and in doing so said a race of people had no claim to freedom in this country. It was not until the 13th and 14th amendments were passed in 1865 and 1868 that the decision was overturned.

This decision drives home an important practical point which is that even with our legal system's built in safe guards sometimes the wrong decision is made and it is only through vigilance and persistence that the decision can be reversed.

I would recommend that everyone take the opportunity, this month, to read the decision which is available for free through Google Scholar. As your history teacher probably told you  in some form or another - it is by examining our past that we can keep from repeating our mistakes.