Value in Controversy: Analyzing the 7th Amendment

“The friends and adversaries of the plan of the convention, if they agree in nothing else, concur at least in the value they set upon the trial by jury; or if there is any difference between them it consists in this: the former regard it as a valuable safeguard to liberty; the latter represent it as the very palladium of free government”-Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 83

When looking back at the founding of our nation, the right to a trial by jury in both criminal and civil cases was a defining quality in the success of our Constitution. It stands not only as a protection from the government but as the foundation of a functioning judiciary system which is truly the glue that holds our society together. However as active citizens we must constantly analyze the state of our government and any incongruities it displays against the ideas of the founders, then deciding if these are positive or negative.
The promise of not only a trial by jury, but also the protection against re-examination as part of appellate jurisdiction, is the truest basis of our judiciary system. The judiciary system is like the post production crew of a film, they go in and refine the laws, cutting away the things that didn’t work in actuality. Being able to have this kind of foresight and this ability to refine and improve laws is what truly makes a functioning government. It is with the safety of a trial by jury that the American people can trust their government, knowing not only that they personally cannot be persecuted unfairly, but also knowing that there is potential for laws to shift through the judiciary system. A key component of a fair trial lies in the re-examination clause of the 7th amendment. The text states that no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined by any other court in the United States. While appellate jurisdiction is vital to the process of judicial review, the possibility of a case being reviewed by a higher court does lead to the prospect of the facts of a trial being re-examined to shift the outcome. By only allowing appellate jurisdiction to address the constitutionality of an issue without giving it the ability to alter or reexamine the facts of a case we find the perfect balance of power and protection in our judiciary system. Without the idea of appellate jurisdiction there would be no possibility for judicial review and therefore no possibility for our government to advance on civil rights issues. However the re-examination clause protects the rights of the accused and the sanctity of the trial itself by ensuring that the facts of the case remain untouched and thus the decision is focused on the constitutionality of the issue rather than the guilt of the individual. It is this focus on constitutionality that drives our government forward and ensures a country that is truly free and democratic.
In the time of blossoming political factions, the founding fathers feared the effect of the majority party and thus saw the judiciary as the protector of the rights of the minority. When looking at landmark decisions of the Supreme Court, such as the civil rights movement, Obergefell vs. Hodges to grant same sex marriage, and even the recent judiciary battle over the travel ban, this idea of protecting minorities has remained untouched. However when we look at the judiciary on a smaller scale at the local and state levels we see time after time cases where the courts fail to protect minorities such as women and people of color. Jon Krakauer documents a series of rape cases on a college campus in his book Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, chronologizing the process these women have to go through in order to get a trial, often to no avail.
African Americans face the same tribulations in the justice system with murders like that of Michael Brown being shoved under the rug by local courts. Police brutality and rape on college campuses occur far too often and the guilty are absolved more times than not. It takes decades to make giant strides through the Supreme Court while the state and local courts fail to provide protection from many minorities. While the judiciary system and the rights granted in the 7th amendment serve to protect minorities the efficacy could be improved to provide a more full range of protections for minorities as was intended.
As an immigrant it is imperative for me to understand and apply my 7th amendment rights, particularly in the current political climate. As a student of politics I find it not only pertinent but fascinating to me to look in retrospect to the ideas of the founding fathers. By being able to analyze the efficacy of the 7th amendment and the role it plays in our lives today I am able to then take action and understand how my own career in political communications can affect legislature that is so foundational to our nation.

 

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