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Twelve years ago, as the first Reagan administration was coming into office, it appeared that the civil jury, at least in complex cases, might be on the way out. The hostility of Chief Justice Warren Burger toward the civil jury was no secret and the circuit courts were split on the question of whether the Seventh Amendment guarantee of trial allowed an exception for complex cases. The issue was ripe for Supreme Court resolution. Moreover, a body of then-recent scholarship provided the Court with some historical justification for reading a complexity exception into the Seventh Amendment as well as with more modern policy arguments for eliminating the civil jury or dramatically altering its tasks in complex litigation. The Supreme Court did not, however, seize the moment, and the issue remains unresolved. Today most federal courts still feel obligated by the Seventh Amendment to try legal cases to juries no matter what their complexities as long as one party insists.


Copyright 1993 Brookings Institution. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.