Seventh Amendment: Common Law Suits And Jury Trials

As part of the National Constitution Center’s 27 Amendments (In 27 Days) project, each day we will look at a constitutional amendment. Through partnerships with leading scholars and universities, government agencies, media outlets, and more, the National Constitution Center will profile one amendment each day throughout the month of February.

Courtroom_United_States_CourthouseFull Text of 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, than according to the rules of the common law.

Synopsis:

Mistrustful of judges, the people insisted on the right to jury trial in civil cases. The minimum level, $20, is so low today that it would burden the federal judiciary, so various devices have been developed to permit alternative resolution of disputes. Source:  U.S. Senate

Explanation:

Just as the Sixth Amendment outlines the rights of people accused of criminal offenses, so the Seventh Amendment outlines the rights of people accused of civil offenses. Civil offenses might be considered less serious than criminal ones because while crimes are “malum in se” (inherently evil), civil law violations are “malum prohibitum,” or only wrong because they are forbidden  by laws, such as the law of tort, contract, and property. Still, protection from government overreaching is necessary when citizens are charged with civil offenses, and the Seventh Amendment preserves “the right of trial by jury” in civil cases “where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars.”

Resources:

1. The Library of Congress Constitution Annotated. Contains a detailed history of the amendment, along with past and recent court cases. Here is a link to the section on the Seventh Amendment. Here are explanations from the LOC that are in an online-friendly format from FindLaw:

2. Cornell Legal Information Institute. Includes information from Wex, a free legal dictionary and encyclopedia sponsored and hosted by the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell Law School. Wex entries are collaboratively created and edited by legal experts.

Learn more about this project at the Constitution Center’s website at: constitutioncenter.org/experience/programs-initiatives/27-amendments-in-27-days/

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