The first 10 Amendments to the United States Constitution are collectively called the Bill of Rights. Like the other nine, Amendment VII is all about protecting the rights of the individual.
What is the 7th Amendment?
The 7th Amendment is about the right to a trial by jury in a case between two parties. It was ratified on December 15, 1791.
Continue reading for a fuller answer.
What Is the 7th Amendment?
The 7th Amendment to the United States Constitution supports and enhances the provisions of the 6th Amendment.
In the 6th Amendment, the right of an accused person to a jury trial is guaranteed. In Amendment VII, this right is fine-tuned to establish clarity in civil court cases which protects the citizen’s rights.
7th Amendment rights are incredibly important. So much so that the Seventh Amendment was ratified as part of the Bill of Rights.
What Is Common Law?
Common law, mentioned on two occasions in the 7th constitutional amendment, is the basis of the legal systems in England and the United States. Common law comprises customary laws that have been in existence since the Middle Ages.
English common law came to America due to the British colonization and continues as the bedrock of its legal system today.
Thus, the Founding Fathers felt secure in referring to ‘common law’ as their compatriots would understand exactly what they meant.
The Term ‘Civil Cases’ Explained
A civil case is one where disputes are heard that involve companies, organizations, or private citizens.
A typical 7th Amendment civil case might concern an individual suing a company for damages if a faulty product damages his property.
Those bringing the civil court case can choose to have a jury trial or opt for a judge to rule alone.
When the 7th constitutional amendment was formulated in the late eighteenth century, twenty dollars was considerable money.
Today, a federal court hearing a civil case will only give the option of a jury if the amount of damages being claimed is more than $75,000.
Trial by Jury in Civil Cases Guaranteed
The Founding Fathers were concerned that if trial by jury in civil cases disappeared, then decisions would have to be made solely by a judge.
They felt there was a risk that a judge might be biased or corrupted. This would be lessened if there was a trial by jury.
In some cases, people felt that a judge might be more inclined to side with the government, leading to the government having too much power.
Royal Bias Amongst Judges
When the US Constitution was being written, the abuses of the law by British judges in the thirteen colonies were remembered well.
Generally, the King appointed judges, who invariably ruled in the King’s favor when hearing civil cases. There was, therefore, an important principle to be preserved.
The 7th Amendment’s purpose was to establish rules to govern civil trials. The 6th Amendment had made clear the rules regulating criminal trials.
It was, however, necessary to make clear the role of a jury in a civil trial. Juries could establish matters of fact, and no other court could alter that decision once established. Thus, interpretation of the law was the role of the courts.
Trial by Jury Amendment
Trial by jury is an important principle, and the Founding Fathers guaranteed in the 7th Amendment (or Trial by Jury Amendment) that it would apply equally in a civil court case.
Interesting that with the average inflation rate since 1871 of approx 2% that same $20 would only be worth $428 in today’s dollars. It would seem that our 7th amendment rights have been eroded by $74572 in real dollars.