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On The Vanishing Jury

Over the past two decades, the decline in jury trials for civil cases has been precipitous. So precipitous, in fact, that the number of civil trials with juries fell 64 percent over the last 15 years. That’s an extremely notable decline, and one that firmly indicates a trend continuing today. When assessing what’s responsible for that decline, two possible answers arise: the growing power and influence of Texan and national appellate courts, and the increasingly high costs of a jury trial.

The power of appellate courts in the state of Texas becomes far more substantial every year. We previously wrote of the Supreme Court’s decision to induce private arbitration onto claim holders, and these kinds of decisions have become the standard for many Texas courts as well.

The decision of a civil jury no longer holds the weight it once did, as more and more cases are overturned by the Texas Appellate Court after a claim has been granted. The weight of the system has fallen upon the judge, and not the citizens of the state, and with that weight has come increasingly conservative decisions that tend to favor defendants in the realm of responsibility.

To avoid the risk of an overturned decision, many lawyers have taken to the avenues of mediation and arbitration, forgoing the trial process itself. These decisions often place the defendant in the forefront, as the difficulty of a trial for the suing entity is constantly in play.

Beyond the weakening of a civil jury decision in itself, plaintiffs are often concerned by the costs of a trial and the further costs and difficulty of discovery by their representative. Texas courts have attempted to expedite this process by helping smaller cases reach trial more quickly, but such attempts have mostly failed to increase the number of trials that actually occur.

Complicit in this decline is the theme of individuals conflicting against a much larger system. Civil court decisions have become increasingly systemic, a product of active judges that rule based on their interpretation of the law rather than on the decisions of any particular jury.

Because of this pattern, a pattern which feeds into itself on account of growing appellate court power, the rights of citizens to have their fates and claims ruled upon by their fellow citizens has consistently declined. One of the vital aspects of the legal system is the right to have your case examined by peers, removed from any particular authority figure’s interpretation, and that aspect is slowly dwindling from the scope of reality.

Individual rights are an ever-pressing issue, and when it comes to protecting the right of society’s individuals to collectively decide what is best, the individual rights guaranteed by the legal system are no less important.

If we cannot ensure the power of the citizen in the civil courts, the Seventh Amendment loses its significance. And with that loss, we are forced to confront the ramifications of individual rights lost in the name of expediency and law.

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