7th Amendment Overview
The 7th Amendment to the United States Constitution is a crucial provision that guarantees the right to a trial by jury in civil cases. This amendment was one of the first ten amendments, also known as the Bill of Rights, that were added to the Constitution in 1791. The 7th Amendment is unique in that it provides for a jury trial in civil cases, which is not a common practice in many other countries.
In this article, we will explore what the 7th Amendment is, what it entails, and how it has influenced the United States.
What Exactly is the 7th Amendment?
The 7th Amendment is a component of the Bill of Rights that states: “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.” This amendment guarantees the right to a trial by jury in civil cases, meaning that any person can ask for the case to be tried by a jury instead of a judge.
The 7th Amendment applies to all federal civil cases, such as cases involving disputes over property, breach of contract, and personal injury. It also applies to state courts under the doctrine of incorporation through the 14th Amendment, meaning that it restricts the states from infringing on the right to a trial by jury in civil cases.
A Look at the Historical Background of the 7th Amendment:
The 7th Amendment has its roots in English common law, which has evolved over time through judicial decisions and legislation. During the colonial era, colonists brought with them the common law system that existed in England, which included the use of juries in civil trials. This system was further strengthened by the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which provided for a right to a trial by jury in civil cases.
The use of juries in civil cases was also an essential feature of the American Revolution, as colonists believed that they were entitled to a right to a jury trial as a protection against arbitrary government power. In 1776, John Adams wrote in the Massachusetts Constitution that “the legislature shall not make any law, that shall subject any person to a trial by jury in cases civil, except such as relate to the title to land, which shall be tried by twelve good and lawful men.”
The United States Constitution drafted in 1787 did not initially contain a provision for the right to a trial by jury in civil cases, which was a concern for Anti-Federalist opponents of the document. They argued that without this protection, the federal government could act unjustly and without regard for individual rights.
To address these concerns, the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in 1791, which included the 7th Amendment. This amendment ensured that individuals would have the right to a trial by jury in civil cases, affirming the importance of the judicial system as a vital check against government overreach.
How has the 7th Amendment Influenced the United States?
The 7th Amendment has had a significant impact on the development of the American legal system. It has remained relevant and essential over the years, providing citizens with a valuable tool to address legal disputes and protect their rights.
Here are some ways that the 7th Amendment has influenced the United States:
1) Preservation of Constitutional Rights:
The 7th Amendment is a crucial component of the Bill of Rights, which guarantees several other fundamental rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press. The amendment protects citizen’s fundamental rights to seek legal recourse in cases where their rights have been violated.
2) Check Against Arbitrary Government Power:
The 7th Amendment provides citizens with a vital check against arbitrary government power. Individuals have the right to a trial by jury in civil cases, which can protect them from government abuses of power, ensuring that the government cannot deny justice to citizens.
3) Promoting the Rule of Law:
The 7th Amendment plays an essential role in the promotion of the rule of law in the United States. The right to a trial by jury in civil cases ensures that the legal system operates fairly, transparently, and impartially, satisfying demands for justice.
4) Encouraging Jury Duty Participation:
The 7th Amendment fosters a sense of civic engagement, promoting the importance of citizens playing a role in the legal process. The right to a trial by jury in civil cases encourages citizens to participate in the judicial process, ensuring that a broad cross-section of society is represented in the legal system.
5) Advancement of Legal Rights:
The 7th Amendment has played a role in advancing the legal rights of marginalized groups over the years. Jury trials have been crucial to several notable civil rights victories, such as the Brown v. Board of Education case, which led to the desegregation of public schools.
The 7th Amendment has been a critical component of American jurisprudence since its inception. Its guarantee of a trial by jury in civil cases has protected the rights of individuals and ensured that the legal system operates fairly and transparently. The amendment’s influence is evident in several key legal decisions throughout American history, making it a vital tool for preserving the freedoms upon which this nation was founded.
Seventh Amendment: Right to a Jury Trial in certain civil matters
What is the Seventh 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, then according to the rules of the common law.
The Seventh Amendment Defined:
The Seventh Amendment derived from the tyrannous actions of the English court system, where judges were seen as predatory creatures that only served the king and did not respect nor care about those they sentenced. As such, the creation of a jury and the right to a trial by jury was seen as a countervailing force against such brutal actions and impartial decisions. The founding fathers developed the Seventh Amendment as a check against the potential abuse of power of the government. The Seventh Amendment enabled the common man (the jury) to possess some power in regard to the decisive authority when examining a court matter.
The Seventh Amendment is a part of the Bill of Rights, which are the first 10 Amendments to the United States Constitution and the framework to elucidate upon the freedoms of the individual. The Bill of Rights was proposed and sent to the states by the first session of the First Congress. They were later ratified on December 15, 1791.
The first 10 Amendments to the United States Constitution were introduced by James Madison as a series of legislative articles and came into effect as Constitutional Amendments following the process of ratification by three-fourths of the States on December 15, 1791.
Court Cases tied into the 7th Amendment:
Even when a statement of fact is disputed and tried before a jury, the judge is awarded the role in deciding the verdict of the case. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Judge may opine on the facts in dispute, provided that the jurors determine what the dispute is. The Supreme Court also ruled that the judge is awarded the power to direct the jury to pay particular attention to certain evidence, which may subsequently lead to the jury answering specific questions concerning the case.
The judge may nullify a verdict delivered by the jury if the judge believes that the verdict was contrary to the evidence or the underlying legal matter. Slocum v. New York Insurance, the Supreme Court upheld this ruling.
State Timeline for Ratification of the Bill of Rights
New Jersey: November 20, 1789; rejected article II
Maryland: December 19, 1789; approved all
North Carolina: December 22, 1789; approved all
South Carolina: January 19, 1790; approved all
New Hampshire: January 25, 1790; rejected article II
Delaware: January 28, 1790; rejected article I
New York: February 27, 1790; rejected article II
Pennsylvania: March 10, 1790; rejected article II
Rhode Island: June 7, 1790; rejected article II
Vermont: November 3, 1791; approved all
Virginia: December 15, 1791; approved all
Georgia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut did not ratify the first 10 Amendments until 1939