The Seventh Amendment: An Explanation and History of Jury Trial Rights

The Seventh Amendment: An Explanation and History of Jury Trial Rights

( – The Seventh Amendment rarely receives as much attention as other amendments in the Bill of Rights. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. This section of the Bill of Rights affords every American a right the Founding Fathers held in high regard.

To understand its importance and grasp its true meaning, you need to examine its text, interpretation, and history.

The Amendment Text

The text of the Seventh Amendment reads as follows:

“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 reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”

While the wording may be slightly confusing, what this boils down to is that you have the right to request a jury trial for civil court matters and federal judges have limits in overturning any verdict of the jury in your case.

You should note it only covers civil law matters and not criminal matters. Also, the US Supreme Court never extended this right to the states, but many states include it in their constitutions.

The History

The amendment passed Congress on September 25, 1789. Ratification took place on December 15, 1791, but getting to this point did not come easily.

Juries were an important part of the colonies’ fight against the British for freedom. The British government often tried to prosecute the early Americans without providing them such representation, so the Founding Fathers developed a jury system to ensure the colonies didn’t do this. The juries would often overturn British laws with which the colonists did not agree.

Due to their use in the shaping of the country, the Founding Fathers held civil juries in high esteem. They wanted to put this right in the Constitution, but there was opposition.

Many people had concerns juries could put contract law in jeopardy, hurting businesses. This objection made it too controversial to include in the Constitution because it might prevent some states from ratifying it.

However, supporters held firm that civil juries protected consumers against bad debts laws and corruption, and they insisted on its inclusion in the founding documents of the country. The compromise was putting it in the Bill of Rights.

The Importance

The Seventh Amendment helps prevent the government from having too much power. It gives you a voice and allows you the ability to shape laws in your local community. Furthermore, civil juries allow for a fair court hearing without the influence of politics or outside interests.

The Seventh Amendment may not be at the forefront of talks about civil rights, but that shouldn’t distract from its importance. Without this right, who knows where our country would be today.

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