The constitutional battle over damage caps is spreading across the country. The most recent battle is in the Missouri Supreme Court. Previously, in a Missouri trial court, a Missouri citizen jury awarded $9.2 million after a doctor was found responsible for the wrongful death of a wife and mother. The money awarded to Ronald Sanders and his daughters was reduced to $1.2 million based on a cap passed by the legislature. Now the Missouri Supreme Court will determine who should decide damages. Elected politicians who hear no evidence in a case or citizen jurors who immerse themselves in the facts for weeks? Our Founding Fathers believed in trusting the American citizenry with things like jury duty and voting. Since then, powerful interests like big corporations, drug companies, insurance companies, doctors, and hospitals have fought hard to limit or even eliminate the power of the American juror.
Arguing that Americans should not be trusted, these powerful groups have enhanced their power and limited their accountability to the American people. They have persuaded many of us in the American public that our citizens cannot be trusted and that it is all the fault of greedy trial lawyers. What the big corporate interests have done, quite successfully, is convince us to ignore that they are really after one thing: enhancing their power and staying beyond the reach of the law. Citizen juries, after all, scare the pants off of the powerful intersts in this country. Citizen juries are fearless instruments of equality in a democracy. No wonder powerful corporate interests want to stop them.
Now the challenge is on in the Missouri Supreme Court. Missouri has a constitution that provides the right to a jury trial. Limiting or removing the jury's ability to do its job is limiting or removing the Missouri citizens' right to a true trial by jury. The plaintiff also argued that the judicial system, not the legislature, is supposed to hear evidence and decide damages. The legislature's attempt to infringe on the jury's role by establishing damage caps is an un-constitutional violation of the principle of separation of powers: there shall be three co-equal and independent branches of government. Indeed, an independent co-equal judicial branch of government is the most important check and balance in favor of the common man's right to hold the most powerful interests in society accountable for their transgressions.
The battle is on and it is now. Will the corporations, insurance companies, and big government gain their coveted foothold against the rights of ordinary Americans? Or will the democratic principles upon which our country was founded prevail? This is a question of individual liberty vs. corporate power. The outcome will speak volumes about where we are as a country and whether we have lost our identity as a beacon unto the nations with regard to democratic principles of liberty and equal justice.