7th Amendment Simplified

7th Amendment

7th Amendment
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

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.

Oklahoma City University School of Law
The Seventh Amendment relates to the right to a trial by jury.

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. 

Utah County Courthouse
Utah County Courthouse.

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. 

Hammer and gavel
The colonists brought the system of English common law with them to the New World.

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.

Dollars
Typically in a civil case in federal court, damages claimed must be more than $75,000 for the case to be heard in front of a jury.

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. 

Mount Rushmore
The Founding Fathers were eager to enhance fairness in the courts via jury trials.

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. 

Hammer and gavel
The authors of the 7th Amendment were concerned with judicial corruption.

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.

Lady Justice statue
Lady Justice.

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.

Watch the following video for a summary of the 7th Amendment:

One Response

  1. 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.

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