Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution
|United States of America|
This article is part of the series:
|Original text of the Constitution|
|Amendments to the Constitution|
|Full text of the Constitution|
Other countries · Law Portal
The Seventh Amendment (Amendment VII) to the United States Constitution, which was ratified as part of the Bill of Rights, codifies the right to a jury trial in certain civil cases, and asserts that cases may not be re-examined by another court.
History and development
Prior to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, English judges were seen as "lions under the throne", servile creatures of the King. As English judges held their sinecures 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 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, American colonial judges still served at the pleasure of the King. King George III of Great Britain abolished trial by jury in the Colonies, one of the main grievances precipitating the American Revolution. 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 described as that "noble palladium of liberty", and protecting it from the reach of future legislators. In Joseph Story's 1833 treatise Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, he wrote, "[I]t is a most important and valuable amendment; and places upon the high ground of constitutional right the inestimable privilege of a trial by jury in civil cases, a privilege scarcely inferior to that in criminal cases, which is conceded by all to be essential to political and civil liberty."
"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, the primary purpose of the trial by jury in America was to protect the public from corrupt or aristocratic 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."
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 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 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 to explain the modes to reexamine facts tried by juries according to Common Law: “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, 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 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" or otherwise set aside the jury's findings.
Twenty Dollars Clause
No power was defined to index or adjust the twenty dollar threshold, defined in the amendment, for inflation. This was not considered due to the value of the dollar having been stable since the seventeenth century. If inflation were considered, however, the value cited would have amounted to several hundred U.S. dollars, as of 2011. Congress has never extended federal diversity jurisdiction 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. Under the current Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (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.
- Sir Francis Bacon, Essays LVI (Of Judicature) (ca. 1620)
- 3 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Lawes of England 379 (1765).
- 2 Elliot, Debates on the Federal Constitution 397 (1836) (remarks of Mr. Tredwell, of New York).
- 4 Elliot, Debates on the Federal Constitution 148 (1836) (remarks of Mr. Iredell, of North Carolina).
- Vanhorne's Lessee v. Dorrance, 2 U.S. 304 (D.Pa. 1795) (Paterson, J, riding circuit).
- Though one of the more obscure Founding Fathers, he was among the most important. His resolution in the Second Continental Congress eventually became the Declaration of Independence; he was not only a signatory to the Declaration, but served as the fourth President of the Continental Congress.
- 1 Elliot, Debates at 504
- E.g., Ratification of the Constitution by the State of New York, July 26, 1788, reprinted in 2 Documentary History of the Constitution of the United States of America 193 (United States Dept. of State, 1894) ("That the trial by Jury in the extent that it obtains by the Common Law of England is one of the greatest securities to the rights of a free People, and ought to remain inviolate [emphasis added].").
- Its intended purposes included the frustration of unwise legislation, vindication of the interests of private citizens in litigation with the government; and "protection of litigants against overbearing and oppressive judges." Charles W. Wolfram, The Constitutional History of the Seventh Amendment, 57 Minn. L. Rev. 639, 670-71 (1973) (examining history of the Seventh Amendment, and discussing the purposes behind it).
- 2 The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States 253 (Charles F. Adams ed., Little, Brown & Co. 1850); accord, The Federalist No. 83, at 465 (A. Hamilton) (I. Kramnick ed. 1987) ("The strongest argument in its favor is, that it is a security against corruption, [a]s there is always more time and better opportunity to tamper with a standing body of magistrates than with a jury summoned for the occasion.").
- Moragne v. States Marine Lines, 398 U.S. 375, 403 (1970).
- Thomas Jefferson, Letter (to L’Abbe Arnoux), Jul. 19, 1789 at 2 (emphasis added). A substantially complete collection of Jefferson' writings, in manuscript, is available at 
- See e.g., "The Jury and Consensus Government in Mid-Eighteenth-Century America", William E. Nelson, article in The Bill of Rights: Original Meaning and Current Understanding (ed. E. W. Hickok, Jr., Univ. Press of Va. 1991), at  (then-Chief Justice John Jay informed a civil jury that while the court usually determined the law and the jury found the facts, the jury nevertheless had "a right to take upon yourselves to judge of both, and to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy.")
- E.g., 8th Cir. Civil Jury Instr. § 1.01 (2008) ("You will then apply those facts to the law which I give you in these and in my other instructions, and in that way reach your verdict. You are the sole judges of the facts; but you must follow the law as stated in my instructions, whether you agree with it or not.") 
- Fed. R. Civ. P. 50 ; see generally, Judgment notwithstanding verdict, or j.n.o.v. for short.
- "US Price Levels 1665 to 2013". Retrieved March 18, 2013.
- Baciker-McKee (2008) . A Student's Guide to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (eleventh ed.). United States: Thomson West. p. 1266. ISBN 978-0-314-19004-8
- Kilman, Johnny and George Costello (Eds). (2000). The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation.
- CRS Annotated Constitution: Seventh Amendment
- The Twenty Dollars Clause by Harvard Review