University of Chicago Law Review

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This Article uncovers the history of a longforgotten English court system, the "fire courts," which Parliament established to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants in urban areas destroyed in catastrophic fires. One of the fire courts' remarkable features was the delegation of authority to judges to adjudicate disputes without juries. Because the Seventh Amendment's right to a federal civil jury trial depends in part on the historical practice of English courts in 1791, this delegation bears directly on the present power of Congress to abrogate the use ofjuries in federal civil litigation. Parliament enacted firecourts legislation on eight occasions between the mid seventeenth century and the nineteenth century. This Article particularly empha sizes the first and largest of these courts, established after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Archival research into 1,585 cases resolved by the London Fire Court re veals that the Fire Court never employed juries to resolve contested factual matters. This Article argues that the history of these courts provides a limited but clear power for Congress to strike the right to civil juries in federal court.