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The 7th Amendment (Trial by Jury) and You

There is a movement afoot by big business to take your 7th Amendment right to trial by jury away. (For those who think the 1st Amendment and 2nd Amendment are important, the 7th Amendment is no less so.  It evens the playing field in disputes between those with money to pay lawyers and those that might not.) The move to repeal these rights doesn’t appear as a push to repeal a Constitutional Amendment or in Campaign Advertisements. It appears in the small print of the contracts you sign with your cell phone provider, or your credit card company, even when you rent a car. It’s called a “mandatory arbitration clause”.

What it means is that if the rental car company, or bank, or cell phone provider causes you some sort of financial harm, you cannot sue them. You have to go before an arbitrator. A private “neutral” party who gets paid to hear your complaint. Unfortunately, most of the time these agreements provide that these private “courts” are stacked against the consumer and in favor of the company.

Another problem with these agreements is they make the consumer waive the right to bring the claim as a class action. That means if one of these companies screws you out of a few dollars, you cannot band together with other people who have been screwed out of a few dollars so that a lawyer will see your claim as worth his/her time. This usually means that the company gets away with screwing you and all the other potential customers out of their few dollars. Small change to you but big business to these companies.

Also, the Courts have upheld clauses that mandate hearings in religious courts, not secular courts.  (Separation of Church and State anyone?)

These agreements have been upheld by the Supreme Court. This is so even though you have no power to negotiate the contract or remove the clause.

They have been found in Car Rental contracts, Cell Phone contracts, Credit Card Companies, even job applications/contracts. One especially dangerous clause shows up in Nursing Home Contracts.  When you or a loved one is at their most vulnerable, the Nursing Home is worried about what happens to their money if they hurt you or your loved one. Don’t be surprised if your doctor or hospital makes you sign away your right to sue for malpractice before agreeing to treat you in the near future.

I write this to educate you, the reader, about the risks of blindly signing contracts in every day financial transactions. You might think you are signing up for cell service, but you are actually signing away your Constitutional Rights.

As I wrote above,  this right to trial by jury so essential to individual freedom because it levels the playing field. It balances the scales of justice. It prevents big companies, with all of the power, from exerting their will on the little guy (us). Once it’s taken away, there’s not much to prevent these companies from doing what they want, to whom they want, without any recourse.

So next time you have to sign a contract, read the fine print. See if the company you choose is looking to screw you before they even start providing you the service they promise to provide.  Then hope they don’t try to screw you.