Professor Arthur R. Miller, a professor at New York University, said in a recent speech that “federal trial by jury is being eviscerated by big business and the U.S. Supreme Court.” According to Professor Miller, who spent over 30 years at Harvard, before coming to his present position, the Supreme Court “seems to have a thumb on the justice scale favoring Defendants that has had significant consequences on access to the courts.” In his presentation, delivered to the American Association for Justice’s annual meeting in Chicago last month, this well-respected gentleman said that he’s grown “increasingly concerned about procedural changes that have resulted in the earlier and earlier disposition of litigation, often eviscerating a citizen’s opportunity for a meaningful merit adjudication of his or her grievance.” In layman’s language, that simply means he believes the scales of justice in the federal system seem to be weighed in favor of big business.
Professor Miller considers trial before a jury the “civil litigation gold standard.” He is absolutely correct in that assessment. That is why our forefathers felt so strongly about the American jury that they guaranteed the right to trial by jury in the 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Professor Miller made this observation:
There are hardly any federal civil trials – let alone jury trials. Indeed, a contemporary cliché refers to ‘the vanishing trial.” Many reasons have been offered, but, in my view, one of the most significant is that judges are terminating cases earlier and earlier. It has been a gradual, almost invisible process. The acceleration of case disposition has come about because courts have erected a sequence of procedural stop signs during the past 25 years.
It is rather interesting that a federal judge in Alabama, speaking to a group of lawyers in Montgomery recently, said basically the same thing. Judge Mark Fuller indicated that summary judgment is granted in over 75% of the civil cases filed in the Middle District of Alabama. That is alarming to say the least.
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