By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
There is a body lying on the pavement. It is still twitching a bit, but fading fast. "This was no accident," says the hard-boiled detective, "this was an attempt at premeditated murder...and it just might succeed." If instead of "body" we're referring to the American civil jury, and instead of "hard-boiled detective" we're referring to a new article in the Yale Law Journal, then the scenario is roughly the same. The analysis, from Yale legal history professor John H. Langbein (2012), notes the dramatic decline in civil trials (now down to two percent of all case conclusions in federal courts and less than one percent in state courts), and ties that trend to a movement from a pleadings-based system in which facts were resolved in trial, to a discovery-based system in which facts are resolved not before trial, but largely without trial. This, Langbein argues, is a consequence of the 1938 Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the civil jury is fading by design, if not by intent, because the reforms have largely worked. In other words, the American jury didn't fall, it was pushed.
While these rumors of the civil jury's impending death may not be greatly exaggerated, they may yet be premature. This is particularly true if we are focusing on the role of popular judgement at a level that is somewhat broader than the formal jury as we have historically conceived it. By expanding our focus a bit in order to account for the potential jury, the expanding use of the mock jury, as well as potential new models such as California's expedited jury, there is still the chance that the legal vox populi might live to play a role in the future.