Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Seventh Amendment (Amendment VII) to the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

, which was ratified
Ratification is a principal's approval of an act of its agent where the agent lacked authority to legally bind the principal. The term applies to private contract law, international treaties, and constitutionals in federations such as the United States and Canada.- Private law :In contract law, the...

 as part of the Bill of Rights
United States Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. These limitations serve to protect the natural rights of liberty and property. They guarantee a number of personal freedoms, limit the government's power in judicial and other proceedings, and...

, codifies the right to a jury trial
Jury trial
A jury trial is a legal proceeding in which a jury either makes a decision or makes findings of fact which are then applied by a judge...

 in certain civil
Civil law
Civil law may refer to:* Civil law , a branch of continental law which is the general part of private law* Civil law , a branch of common law dealing with relations between individuals or organizations...

 cases. However, in some civil cases, the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 has not incorporated
Incorporation (Bill of Rights)
The incorporation of the Bill of Rights is the process by which American courts have applied portions of the U.S. Bill of Rights to the states. Prior to the 1890s, the Bill of Rights was held only to apply to the federal government...

 the right to a jury trial to the states in the fashion which might be expected under the Fourteenth Amendment
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments.Its Citizenship Clause provides a broad definition of citizenship that overruled the Dred Scott v...

. The Court ruled however in The Justices v. Murray, 76 U.S. 9 Wall. 274 (1869) that the clause of the Amendment, which the re-examination of any fact found by a jury
A jury is a sworn body of people convened to render an impartial verdict officially submitted to them by a court, or to set a penalty or judgment. Modern juries tend to be found in courts to ascertain the guilt, or lack thereof, in a crime. In Anglophone jurisdictions, the verdict may be guilty,...

, is not only restricted in its application to suits at-common-law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

, tried
A trial is, in the most general sense, a test, usually a test to see whether something does or does not meet a given standard.It may refer to:*Trial , the presentation of information in a formal setting, usually a court...

 before juries in courts of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, but applies also equally to a case tried before a jury in a state court.


History and development

Prior to the Glorious Revolution
Glorious Revolution
The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, is the overthrow of King James II of England by a union of English Parliamentarians with the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau...

 of 1688, English judges were seen as "lions under the throne", servile creatures of the King. As English judges held their sinecure
A sinecure means an office that requires or involves little or no responsibility, labour, or active service...

s at the pleasure of the King, they were sometimes biased in favor of the King and did not always make their rulings in an impartial manner. As such, the jury was an essential countervailing force against tyranny, insofar as the jury had every right to ignore a judge's instructions, thwarting even the will of the King. William Blackstone
William Blackstone
Sir William Blackstone KC SL was an English jurist, judge and Tory politician of the eighteenth century. He is most noted for writing the Commentaries on the Laws of England. Born into a middle class family in London, Blackstone was educated at Charterhouse School before matriculating at Pembroke...

 wrote that it was "the most transcendent privilege which any subject can enjoy, or wish for, that he cannot be affected either in his property, his liberty, or his person, but by the unanimous consent of twelve of his neighbours and equals."

Whereas English judges won their independence from the Crown in the Act of Settlement 1701
Act of Settlement 1701
The Act of Settlement is an act of the Parliament of England that was passed in 1701 to settle the succession to the English throne on the Electress Sophia of Hanover and her Protestant heirs. The act was later extended to Scotland, as a result of the Treaty of Union , enacted in the Acts of Union...

, American colonial judges still served at the pleasure of the King. King George III of Great Britain abolished trial by jury
Trial by Jury
Trial by Jury is a comic opera in one act, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It was first produced on 25 March 1875, at London's Royalty Theatre, where it initially ran for 131 performances and was considered a hit, receiving critical praise and outrunning its...

 in the Colonies, one of the main grievances precipitating the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

. As America's Founding Fathers shared a perfect horror at the concept of arbitrary courts of justice, such as those "of [King] Philip in the Netherlands, in which life and property were daily confiscated without a jury, and which occasioned as much misery and a more rapid depopulation of the province", they incorporated the right to trial by jury into the Bill of Rights, thereby restoring what soon-to-be United States Supreme Court Justice James Iredell
James Iredell
James Iredell was one of the first Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was appointed by President George Washington and served from 1790 until his death in 1799...

 described as that "noble palladium of liberty", and protecting it from the reach of future legislators.

"The right of trial by Jury is a fundamental law, made sacred by the Constitution, and cannot be legislated away." According to Senator Richard Henry Lee
Richard Henry Lee
Richard Henry Lee was an American statesman from Virginia best known for the motion in the Second Continental Congress calling for the colonies' independence from Great Britain. He was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation and his famous resolution of June 1776 led to the United States...

, the primary purpose of the trial by jury in America was to protect the public from corrupt or aristocrat
Aristocracy (class)
The aristocracy are people considered to be in the highest social class in a society which has or once had a political system of Aristocracy. Aristocrats possess hereditary titles granted by a monarch, which once granted them feudal or legal privileges, or deriving, as in Ancient Greece and India,...

ic judges:
The impartial administration of justice, which secures both our persons and our properties, is the great end of civil society. But if that be entirely intrusted to the magistracy,--a select body of men, and those generally selected, by the prince, of such as enjoy the highest offices of the state,--these decisions, in spite of their own natural integrity, will have frequently an involuntary bias towards those of their own rank and dignity. It is not to be expected from human nature, that the few should always be attentive to the good of the many." The learned judge further says, that "every tribunal, selected for the decision of facts, is a step towards establishing aristocracy—the most oppressive of all governments."

Judicial interpretation

The Framers intended to preserve the trial by jury as it existed in England, as a check on potential abuse of power by the government. John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

As the Constitution requires that the popular branch of the legislature should have an absolute check, so as to put a peremptory negative upon every act of the government, it requires that the common people, should have as complete a control, as decisive a negative, in every judgment of a court of judicature.

Uncertainty in the law is a serious problem, insofar as the published precedent of courts in a common law system is supposed to constitute "a clear guide for the conduct of individuals, to enable them to plan their affairs with assurance against untoward surprise." But whereas a runaway jury poses a clear and present danger to that reliance interest, a runaway judge can pose an even greater peril. As Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 explained: that
[w]e all know that permanent judges acquire an esprit de corps; that, being known, they are liable to be tempted by bribery; that they are misled by favor, by relationship, by a spirit of party, by a devotion to the executive or legislative; that it is better to leave a cause to the decision of cross and pile than to that of a judge biased to one side; and that the opinion of twelve honest jurymen gives still a better hope of right than cross and pile does. It is left therefore, to the juries, if they think the permanent judges are under any bias whatever in any cause, to take on themselves to judge the law as well as the fact. They never exercise this power but when they suspect partiality in the judges; and by the exercise of this power they have been the firmest bulwarks of English liberty.

Whereas colonial judges routinely instructed jurors that they were the ultimate arbiters of both fact and law, the modern judge asserts almost an plenary control over the evidence, law, and facts, instructing the jury as to what the law is, and may overturn decisions in favor of the defense.

Re-examination of facts

The Re-Examination Clause of the Seventh Amendment states: "In suits at common law, ... no fact tried by jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law." This clause forbids any court from reexamining or overturning any factual determinations made by a jury, unless the factual determinations are clearly erroneous. Determination of legal issues by a jury are subject to Appellate review. Justice Samuel Nelson
Samuel Nelson
Samuel Nelson was an American attorney and an Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States....

 wrote the opinion of the Supreme Court in The Justices v. Murray, 76 U.S. 9 Wall. 274 (1869), which applied the Re-Examination Clause to the states. In his opinion Nelson quoted Justice Joseph Story
Joseph Story
Joseph Story was an American lawyer and jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1811 to 1845. He is most remembered today for his opinions in Martin v. Hunter's Lessee and The Amistad, along with his magisterial Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, first...

 to explain the modes to reexamine facts tried by juries according to Common Law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

: “Mr. Justice Story […] referring to this part of the amendment, observed […] that it was 'a prohibition to the courts of the United States to re-examine any facts tried by a jury in any other manner [than according to Common Law].' […] He further observed that 'the only modes known to the common law to re-examine such facts was the granting of a new trial by the court where the issue was tried, or the award of a venire facias de novo
Venire facias de novo
In law, venire facias de novo , sometimes abbreviated to venire facias is a writ issued by an officer of the court summoning prospective jurors, which the court uses when there has been some impropriety or irregularity in the jury, or where the verdict is so imperfect or ambiguous that no judgment...

, by the appellate court, for some error of law that had intervened in the proceedings.'”

The Re-Examination Clause applies not only to federal courts, but also to "a case tried before a jury in a state court and brought to the Supreme Court on appeal."

As common law provided, the judge could set aside (or nullify) a jury verdict
In law, a verdict is the formal finding of fact made by a jury on matters or questions submitted to the jury by a judge. The term, from the Latin veredictum, literally means "to say the truth" and is derived from Middle English verdit, from Anglo-Norman: a compound of ver and dit In law, a verdict...

 when the judge decided that the verdict was contrary to the evidence or the law. Common law precluded the judge from himself entering a verdict; a new trial, with a new jury, was the only course permissible. In Slocum v. New York Insurance Co. (1913), the Supreme Court upheld this rule. Later cases have undermined Slocum, but generally only when the evidence is overwhelming, or if a specific law provides narrow guidelines by which there can be no reasonable question as to the required outcome, may the court enter "judgment as a matter of law
Judgment as a matter of law
Judgment as a matter of law is a motion made by a party, during trial, claiming the opposing party has insufficient evidence to reasonably support its case. JMOL is also known as a directed verdict, which it has replaced in American Federal courts.JMOL is similar to judgment on the pleadings and...

" or otherwise set aside the jury's findings.

Twenty Dollars Clause

While the amount mentioned in the amendment ($20) has not been indexed or adjusted for inflation, Congress has never extended federal diversity jurisdiction
Diversity jurisdiction
In the law of the United States, diversity jurisdiction is a form of subject-matter jurisdiction in civil procedure in which a United States district court has the power to hear a civil case where the persons that are parties are "diverse" in citizenship, which generally indicates that they are...

 to amounts that small, and the amendment is one of the few portions of the Bill of Rights never to have been incorporated by the Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

. Under the current Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern civil procedure in United States district courts. The FRCP are promulgated by the United States Supreme Court pursuant to the Rules Enabling Act, and then the United States Congress has 7 months to veto the rules promulgated or they become part of the...

(28 U.S.C. §1332), the amount in dispute in diversity cases must exceed $75,000 USD in order for the case to be heard in federal court.

External links

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