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The right of juries to decide questions of law was widely accepted in the colonies, especially in criminal cases. Prior to 1850, the judge and jury were viewed as partners in many jurisdictions. The jury could decide questions of both law and fact, and the judge helped guide the decision-making process by comments on the witnesses and the evidence. Legal theory and political philosophy emphasized the importance of the Jury in divining natural law, which was thought to be a better source for decision than the “authority of black letter maxim.” Since natural law was accessible to lay people, it was held to be the duty of each juror to determine for himself whether a particular rule of law embodied the principles of the higher natural law. Indeed, it was argued that the United States Constitution embodied a codification of natural rights so that “the reliance by the jury on a higher law was usually viewed as a constitutional judgment.”
Kane & Miller Friedenthal (more quotes by Kane & Miller Friedenthal or books by/about Kane & Miller Friedenthal)
Civil Procedure, p 476-77, chapter 11, Jury Trial; 2 The Judge Jury Relationship (West Publishing Company 1985).
Jury, Law, Nature