West Virginia Law Review

Document Type



Many decry the state of societal inequality in modern America. Juries are not normally thought of as part of the solution, but history shows that they should be. It reveals that juries oftentimes advanced the interests of the poor and lowly when no one else would. It also reveals that powerful interests—government and corporate—have sought to disempower juries that rule in favor of marginalized groups. This Article examines four contexts throughout our history where juries have enhanced societal equality. (1) In early America, they resisted the British government and in the nascent republic were friends to debtors and farmers. (2) When Congress passed fugitive slave laws to enable slaveholders to haul accused runaways back into bondage, Northern juries effectively invalidated the laws. (3) During the Industrial Revolution and railroad boom, juries acted as a check on land seizures and compensated victims of grievous industrial injuries. And (4) throughout the labor movements of the last two centuries, juries tended to support workers agitating for better wages and conditions. Each time, those in power fought back by trying to eliminate or weaken juries in response. And each time, courts or legislatures brought juries to heel. Still, history teaches us the valuable role juries play in creating a more equal society.



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