The Seventh Amendment to the US Constitution and provisions of most state constitutions guarantee citizens the right of trial by jury in common-law civil cases. But it is beyond dispute that the civil jury trial is a vanishing feature of the American legal landscape. In 1962, juries resolved 5.5 percent of federal civil cases; since 2005, the rate has been below 1 percent. In 1997, there were 3,369 civil jury trials in Texas state courts; in 2012, even as the number of lawsuits had risen substantially, there were fewer than 1,200. Similar trends are evident in states across the nation.
What are the causes of the civil jury trial’s near extinction? What are the consequences—for the legal system and society more broadly? And for those who advocate preserving and revitalizing the civil jury trial, what steps might be taken? These will be the core areas of inquiry for the new Civil Jury Project at NYU School of Law.
The Civil Jury Project will engage in three primary areas of activity.
1. It will undertake an empirical assessment of the current role of the jury in our civil justice system, the reasons for its decline, and the impact of that decline on the functioning of the civil justice system overall. The basic question is whether jury trials continue to serve the role anticipated by the Framers of the Constitution. Relatedly, it is important to examine the consequences of the decline and what institutions currently fill the void.
2. It will create education programs and publicity outlets for studies and policy proposals on the jury trial.
3. It will re-evaluate ways in which juries are constituted and jury trials are conducted. The question is not simply whether there should be a right to trial by jury, but how that right can be exercised consistent with basic commitments to speedy and efficient resolution of civil disputes.