NFIB Asks Federal Court of Appeals to Allow Landowners a Jury Trial

Date: July 07, 2016 Last Edit: July 20, 2016

The National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center has filed an amici curiae brief–joined by Cato Institute and Southeaster Legal Foundation—in support of a group of landowners in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Cincinnati. The case, Brott v. United States, asks whether landowners seeking compensation for the unconstitutional taking of their lands may invoke their Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial.

“Historically, the right to a jury trial was viewed as an essential bulwark against arbitrary and unlawful government encroachments on property rights and other basic liberties,” said NFIB Small Business Legal Center Executive Director Karen Harned.  “That is why the Seventh Amendment guarantees the right to a jury. The Founding Fathers wanted to preserve and protect the right of citizens to have a jury decide cases against the government precisely to maintain a check on government in the judicial process.”

In this case, a group of landowners argues that the United States illegally took their property, without compensation, by creating a recreational trail on their lands. They are invoking their Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial to resolve some important factual questions. But the United States maintains that there is no right to a jury trial in suits against the United States and that the government can dictate the terms on which it will consent to be sued.

“Unfortunately many courts have assumed that the United States is somehow immune to the Seventh Amendment,” said Harned. “Here, the government argues that it can exempt itself from honoring the Constitution. But that argument must be emphatically rejected because it would allow the government to act outside the law—and would endanger all of our rights.”

“Our members in Ohio, and across the country, appreciate the support of the NFIB Small Business Legal Center. Small business owners realize they cannot fight legal issues like this alone,” said Roger Geiger, Vice President and Executive Director of NFIB/Ohio. “The constitutional right to a jury trial is viewed by our members as an important protection against government overreach.”

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