Federalism and the State Civil Jury Rights

By Hamilton, Eric J. | Stanford Law Review, April 2013 | Go to article overview

Federalism and the State Civil Jury Rights


Hamilton, Eric J., Stanford Law Review


INTRODUCTION  I.   THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO A JURY TRIAL IN CIVIL CASES      A. Civil Jury Rights in State Constitutions      B. The Seventh Amendment and Its Roots in State Constitutions      C. The Intertwined-Issues Problem: Applying the "Inviolate" Right         in Merged Courts II.  THE JURY RIGHT IN FEDERAL AND STATE COURTS AT THE TIME OF BEACON      THEATRES      A. Beacon Theatres and Dairy Queen Adopt the Functional Approach      B. State Courts Adopt the Traditional Interpretation      C. Statutory Extensions of the Jury Right After Merger III. THE RIGHT TO A JURY TRIAL IN CIVIL SUITS TODAY      A. Traditional-Rule States         1. Issue-orientation states         2. Action-orientation states         3. Exceptions for the compulsory legal counterclaim         4. The equal rights to a bench trial and a jury trial      B. Functional-Rule States IV.  JUDICIAL FEDERALISM AND CIVIL JURY RIGHTS      A. The Judicial Federalism Paradigm      B. Analyzing the Intertwined-Issues Problem in State Court         1. Lockstep states         2. Independent state constitutional analysis         3. Discussing Beacon Theatres      C. Unpacking the Justification for Following Beacon Theatres         1. Are the Seventh Amendment and parallel state constitutional            rights identical?         2. Is Beacon Theatres a good analogy for state courts? CONCLUSION APPENDIX 

INTRODUCTION

The Seventh Amendment, which guarantees a right to a jury trial in certain civil cases, is one of the few constitutional rights the Supreme Court has passed over for incorporation--that is, for application against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. (1) Two characteristics distinguish the Seventh Amendment from all other unincorporated rights: the right to a jury trial is both provided for in the great majority of state constitutions and has generated an appreciable body of case law at both the federal and state levels.

Beacon Theatres, Inc. v. Westover is one of the first cases any student of the Seventh Amendment will read; it resolved a question of scope for the Seventh Amendment that was brought about by the merger of law and equity. (2) The Supreme Court used a broad rule for interpretation that has since become a fixture in Seventh Amendment jurisprudence. But at the time the Court decided Beacon Theatres, many states had already decided the issue and almost uniformly followed a more conservative rule. State law on the issue went unnoticed by the Court. It is absent from the Beacon Theatres opinions and the briefs filed with the Court.

Today, Beacon Theatres is the starting point for analysis in many state cases--even though state courts are not compelled to accept the case. In some states, the analysis seizes on the Seventh Amendment's unincorporated status and reads like a rare step back into preincorporation days, when state courts alone set the metes and bounds for constitutional rights without direction from the U.S. Supreme Court. Many other state supreme courts elect to follow the Supreme Court's interpretation of the parallel right, some with and some without consideration of alternatives. Within a few years of Beacon Theatres, some state courts had uprooted established doctrine and planted the Beacon Theatres rule into state case reporters, either adopting Beacon Theatres as part of a broader judge-made policy of deferring to U.S. Supreme Court doctrine or embracing the rule out of a sense of obligation to the Court, with sometimes only cursory analysis of the Court's reasoning. In other states, state supreme courts determined that the state constitutional right differed from the Seventh Amendment right, leading to corresponding state rules that differed from the Beacon Theatres rule.

Justice William J. Brennan's pathbreaking article State Constitutions and the Protection of Individual Rights (3) set off new research and discussion about what came to be called the new judicial federalism. …

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