Federalist 83: The Need for a Trial by Jury

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What was the Constitutional significance of a trial by jury? How does Federalist 83 address this issue?

Federalist 83 is about the criticism that the Constitution didn’t guarantee a trial by jury. In particular, it was a missing protection for criminal cases.

Read more about the issue of a trial by jury and Federalist 83.

Criticism Covered by Federalist 83: Lack of a Trial by Jury

The Constitution guaranteed a trial by jury to all defendants who requested one—but only in criminal cases (involving offenses against the state). There was no such provision for civil cases (involving private disputes between individuals).

This led critics and opponents of the Constitution to fear that the document explicitly prohibited trial by jury in civil cases. But Publius argued in Federalist 83 that this was faulty reasoning. Just because a right was not expressly guaranteed did not mean that it was denied.

Furthermore, it was not clear that trial by jury in civil matters was, in fact, desirable. Would every petty civil dispute require a jury to be empaneled, at great cost to the public? Moreover, many civil cases involved highly specialized areas of law, such as probate or admiralty law. In such cases, it was questionable whether juries would have the necessary expertise or judgment to render sound verdicts.

Even in criminal appellate courts, many jurisdictions did not use trial by jury. Instead, they relied upon a single judge or panel of judges. Universal trial by jury in civil cases was not a realistic standard, nor was it one that had precedent, either in the states or Great Britain.

Most of the states already used special tribunals, not juries, to adjudicate civil cases. Therefore, it made little sense to hold the federal judicial system to a standard that wasn’t being held by the states.

Federalist 83: The Need for a Trial by Jury

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Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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