Many members of the newly sworn in Congress campaigned proclaiming their enthusiasm for and commitment to our Constitution. This group is even reading the Constitution aloud today on the House floor, and voted yesterday to approve new House rules requiring that specific constitutional authority be cited to support every piece of legislation proposed in the new Congress.
The constitutional conservatives' stated commitment to our country's founding principles is at this point widely known. But what is not widely known is where this group will come down regarding "tort reform" - or limiting people's 7th Amendment right to trial by jury.
The right to a trial by jury for civil suits dates back almost 800 years, to the signing of the Magna Carta. Article 39 of the Magna Carta specifically guaranteed the right to a jury trial for civil suits and criminal cases.
Our Founding Fathers also agreed with the importance of a trial by jury. In the words of James Madison, "In suits at common law, trial by jury in civil cases is as essential to secure the liberty of the people as any one of the pre-existent rights of nature."
Other founders were equally adamant about the critical importance of access to civil justice. Thomas Jefferson called civil jury trials, "the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution."
But today, that 7th Amendment right may well be the most ignored and endangered of those enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Years of political and legal warfare by the corporate community, in the name of "economic efficiency," have succeeded in shredding our rights in a host of areas. Lawmakers beholden to insurance companies, the drug industry, Wall Street, or other corporate lobbies have for years pushed tort reform - providing immunity to wrongdoers at the expense of American consumers' and patients' 7th Amendment rights.
Votes on tort reform will be one of the first true tests of newly-elected Constitutional Conservatives. In fact, the House will vote on Wednesday to repeal the health care reform law and take steps toward creating an alternative plan that would include limiting the legal rights of patients. These members should consider how this idea conflicts with the limited government they promote.
The concept of tort reform is an assault on states' rights and individual freedom. Though politics may try to disguise our commonalities, constitutional conservatives claim adherence to very similar principles as do trial attorneys: preserving and promoting individual liberty, responsibility and the rule of law.
Americans universally know that the 2nd Amendment protects the right of the people to bear arms. Our founding fathers had no intention of making the 2nd Amendment more or less important than the 7th, or any other part of the Bill of Rights. We cannot pick and choose which parts of the Constitution to follow or to ignore.
And it will be up to members of the 112th Congress to fulfill their campaign pledges and protect the Constitution - the 7th Amendment included.