What’s your favorite number? Is it seven? Alex Bellos, a math blogger (yes, there is such a thing) recently set out to answer this question with a poll. The results confirmed that the number seven is, in fact, the most popular number in the world – at least among the poll participants. Here at GTLA, seven is our favorite number because it is the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution that protects our right to jury trial.
As I began this year of my presidency, I felt compelled to re-read the Seventh Amendment and was struck once again by its simplicity: In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed $20, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of common law.
The Seventh Amendment is simple, brief and clear. The right to jury trial “shall be preserved.” Our Georgia Constitution is even more strongly worded and provides that the right to trial by jury shall remain “inviolate.” Unfortunately, outside of trial lawyer circles, many people are entirely unaware that the right to trial by jury is a constitutional right. In fact, just this year your GTLA Legislative Team began wearing a lapel pin in the shape of the number seven at the Capitol, and you would probably be surprised at the number of legislators, fellow citizens and – yes – even a few GTLA members who inquired about the significance of the seven.
What these pins did accomplish, though, is that in addition to showing our constant support for the Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury, they also got people talking, asking questions and thinking about the link between the U.S. Constitution and a jury trial – perhaps for the very first time. It is nothing if not subtle, but in today’s climate where the right to trial by jury has been deliberately maligned by those who would like nothing more than to evade accountability, even the smallest opening is all it takes to begin to set the record straight about the true importance of the Seventh Amendment.
And, we’ve got plenty more Seventh Amendment lapel pins at the GTLA office, so please let us know if you’d like a few of them to proudly show your support for the Seventh Amendment at the office, in the community or at the Capitol.
The unfortunate reality in Georgia is that not everyone holds our constitutional guarantees in equal regard. Many of the same people who will jump into action at the slightest threat to their Second Amendment right to bear arms can be persuaded by attack ads and misleading media “stories” to support efforts aimed at limiting the constitutional right to trial by jury. Certainly the forces that seek to do harm to the right to trial by jury never mention that it’s a constitutional right. And, a bumper sticker that says “I’ll give you my jury summons when you pry it out of my cold dead hands” doesn’t have the same punch as the one about a gun.
As trial lawyers, it is our job and our responsibility to educate the people about their constitutional rights. This year at GTLA, we will continue and expand our efforts to make it known that the right to trial by jury is a sacrosanct constitutional right. It is an effort that will not be accomplished overnight and will require the input and diligence of many, but is an endeavor that is worthy of our commitment.
In this effort, we need your help. I urge you to take every opportunity to explain the importance of the Seventh Amendment to those in your community. The effort can be it as simple as neighborly conversation, a letter to the editor or a talk at your child’s school. Resolve that you will not stand by and witness an attack on trial lawyers or the Seventh Amendment without responding. The values of personal responsibility, accountability and justice resonate with Georgians from both sides of the aisle and all walks of life, and that is why it is so important to remind your fellow citizens that those ideals are the result of a strong, robust civil justice system.
Meanwhile, you can rest assured that we at GTLA will be working hard to educate the public and our legislators on these very same issues. Together, we can defuse the anti-trial lawyer rhetoric and refocus the people of Georgia on protecting their constitutional right to jury trial with the same fervor as their right to bear arms.
I want to close by thanking each and every one of you for allowing me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve as the 59th President of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association. I follow humbly in the enormous footsteps left by so many great leaders before me, and I want to assure you that your trust in me is not misplaced, nor is it taken lightly. Together, we will ensure that the Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury that we will one day hand off to the next generation will be just as strong – if not stronger – as the one that we inherited from those who came before us.