West Virginia’s Civil Courts Protect Our Families, Our Rights, and Our Economic Freedom

Our 7th Amendment reads, “In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rule of law.”   This right to trial by jury is one of the most fundamental rights we have as Americans. Often overlooked, it is the one right that ensures that we can challenge the government when other rights are threatened and we can hold wrongdoers accountable when they harm us physically or financially.

Our civil courts keep us safe and hold those who hurt us accountable. Our civil courts ensure that when we are harmed physically or financially that we can receive justice—even when taking on the most wealthy and powerful individuals, companies and the government. Our courtrooms are the one place where we are all equal. Civil laws protect us from cheating and financial fraud, physical injury, dangerous products and toxins, violations of our civil rights and more. They also protect our businesses when other businesses fail to meet contractual obligations, their trade secrets are stolen, unfair competition, etc. Our courts hold these wrongdoers accountable and compensate us for our losses. This ensures that the financial burden is placed with the responsible party, not shifted onto other businesses and taxpayers. More importantly, court decisions often lead to changes that make us all safer. Our courts have led to safer cars, a ban on lead products, safer toys, health care industry practices that protect patients, emergency exits from buildings, safe workplaces and so much more. Why? When wrongdoers know they can be held accountable, they are more likely to be responsible. When there is no accountability, there is no safety.

Our civil courts protect us from government abuses. If the government oversteps its boundaries and imposes unconstitutional laws or threatens our rights, the one place where the average citizen can challenge the government is in our courtrooms. Why? Because in our courts, you are equal to the government itself. If you don’t have access to our civil courts, there is nothing to stop the government from trampling our constitutional rights—even those preserved in the Bill of Rights. Our government can run unchecked and unchallenged. That’s the real meaning behind Shakespeare’s line, “First let’s kill all the lawyers” (Henry VI, Part II). If there are no lawyers and we don’t have access to our courtrooms, we can’t hold the government accountable.

Our civil courts are the basis for the free market. A free market economy is central to our economic freedom. Businesses that cheat or cut corners get an unfair advantage over their responsible competitors. West Virginia’s courts discourage these abuses by holding bad businesses accountable financially. The costs for their bad behavior should not be shifted to responsible businesses and taxpayers. The court system is local and efficient, and it reduces the need for excessive and expensive government regulation. As Tea Party founder Judson Phillips stated, “The free market is wonderful. It encourages good behavior and punishes bad behavior. The civil court system is part of the free market.”

Former U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist said, “The right to trial by jury in civil cases at common law is fundamental to our history and jurisprudence. A right so fundamental and sacred to the citizens should be jealously guarded.”

Who’s ready to stand guard and protect our rights and access to our courts? Send your email to wvjusticeforall@wvaj.org and join the fight!

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