On December 21, 2015, a Cook County circuit court judge struck down the six-person jury law as unconstitutional under Article I, section 13 of the Bill of Rights to the 1970 Illinois Constitution.
The law, which reduced the size of juries in civil cases from twelve to six, became effective in cases filed on June 1, 2015. The judge’s memorandum opinion carefully analyzed the history of the 1970 Illinois Constitution and prior constitutions, case law, and the parties’ arguments before concluding that the right to a jury trial “as heretofore enjoyed” under the 1970 Constitution included a right to a jury of twelve.
The judge held that the statute was unconstitutional on its face because: (1) the record of the Sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention in 1970 showed that the framers extensively debated amendments to the right to a jury trial in civil cases but ultimately left the right as it had been historically enjoyed; (2) the Illinois Supreme Court had interpreted the right to a jury trial as a right to twelve jurors; (3) the right to a civil jury under the 1970 Illinois Constitution is broader than the right to a jury trial guaranteed under the United States Constitution; (4) the statute also violated the separation of powers principle by allowing the legislature to infringe on power that exclusively belongs to the judiciary to conduct trials; and (5) the legislature could not alter the constitutional right to a jury of twelve as part of an effort to raise juror compensation, but public policy also supported the historic right to a jury of twelve to increase diversity and promote the deliberative process.
Plaintiffs’ counsel has promised to appeal the ruling directly to the Illinois Supreme Court.
As a side note, the judge drew on a number of articles footnoted in the opinion, including "Public Act 98-1132: An Unconstitutional Violation of the ‘Inviolate’ Right to Trial By Jury?", an article that Britta Sahlstrom, an associate in our Chicago office, and I co-authored that appeared in an Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel publication earlier this year.
Going forward, any party seeking to file a twelve-person jury demand should consult with counsel on the necessity and benefit of filing a motion for leave to file a jury demand for twelve or to have the law declared unconstitutional.