Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution | Wikipedia audio article
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Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution | Wikipedia audio article


The Seventh Amendment (Amendment VII) to the
United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. This amendment codifies the right to a jury
trial in certain civil cases and inhibits courts from overturning a jury’s findings
of fact. An early version of the Seventh Amendment
was introduced in Congress in 1789 by James Madison, along with the other amendments,
in response to Anti-Federalist objections to the new Constitution. Congress proposed a revised version of the
Seventh Amendment to the states on September 28, 1789, and by December 15, 1791, the necessary
three-quarters of the states had ratified it. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson announced
the adoption of the amendment on March 1, 1792. The Seventh Amendment is generally considered
one of the more straightforward amendments of the Bill of Rights. While the Seventh Amendment’s provision for
jury trials in civil cases has never been incorporated (i.e., applied to the states)
almost every state voluntarily complies with this requirement. The prohibition of overturning a jury’s findings
of fact applies to federal cases, state cases involving federal law, and to review of state
cases by federal courts. United States v. Wonson (1812) established
the historical test, which interpreted the amendment as relying on English common law
to determine whether a jury trial was necessary in a civil suit. The amendment thus does not guarantee trial
by jury in cases under maritime law, in lawsuits against the government itself, and for many
parts of patent claims. In all other cases, the jury can be waived
by consent of the parties. The amendment additionally guarantees a minimum
of six members for a jury in a civil trial. The amendment’s twenty dollar threshold has
not been the subject of much scholarly or judicial writing; that threshold remains applicable
despite the inflation that has occurred since the 18th century.==Text==
The amendment as proposed by Congress in 1789 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 re-examined in any Court of the United States,
than according to the rules of the common law.==Background==
After several years of comparatively weak government under the Articles of Confederation,
a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia proposed a new constitution on September 17,
1787, featuring a stronger chief executive and other changes. George Mason, a Constitutional Convention
delegate and the drafter of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, proposed that a bill of rights
listing and guaranteeing civil liberties be included. Other delegates—including future Bill of
Rights drafter James Madison—disagreed, arguing that existing state guarantees of
civil liberties were sufficient and that any attempt to enumerate individual rights risked
implying that the federal government had power to violate every other right (this concern
eventually led to the Ninth and Tenth Amendments). After a brief debate, Mason’s proposal was
defeated by a unanimous vote of the state delegations. In the final days of the convention, North
Carolina delegate Hugh Williamson proposed a guarantee of trial by jury in federal civil
cases, but a motion to add this guarantee was also defeated.However, adoption of the
Constitution required that nine of the thirteen states ratify it in state conventions. Opposition to ratification (“Anti-Federalism”)
was partly based on the Constitution’s lack of adequate guarantees for civil liberties. Supporters of the Constitution in states where
popular sentiment was against ratification (including Virginia, Massachusetts, and New
York) successfully proposed that their state conventions both ratify the Constitution and
call for the addition of a bill of rights.One charge of the Anti-Federalists was that giving
the U.S. Supreme Court jurisdiction “both as to law and fact” would allow it to deny
the findings of jury trials in civil cases. Responding to these concerns, five state ratification
conventions recommended a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to jury trial in civil
cases.==Proposal and ratification==In the 1st United States Congress, following
the state legislatures’ request, James Madison proposed twenty constitutional amendments
based on state bills of rights and English sources such as the Bill of Rights 1689. Among them was an amendment protecting findings
of fact in civil cases exceeding a certain dollar value from judicial review. Madison proposed that this amendment should
be added directly to Article III, though Congress later determined to add the proposed Bill
of Rights to the end of the Constitution, leaving the original text intact. Congress also reduced Madison’s proposed twenty
amendments to twelve, and these were proposed to the states for ratification on September
25, 1789.By the time the Bill of Rights was submitted to the states for ratification,
opinions had shifted in both parties. Many Federalists, who had previously opposed
a Bill of Rights, now supported the Bill as a means of silencing the Anti-Federalists’
most effective criticism. Many Anti-Federalists, in contrast, now opposed
it, realizing that the Bill’s adoption would greatly lessen the chances of a second constitutional
convention, which they desired. Anti-Federalists such as Richard Henry Lee
also argued that the Bill left the most objectionable portions of the Constitution, such as the
federal judiciary and direct taxation, intact.On November 20, 1789, New Jersey ratified eleven
of the twelve amendments, rejecting an amendment to regulate congressional pay raises. On December 19 and 22, respectively, Maryland
and North Carolina ratified all twelve amendments. On January 19, 25, and 28, 1790, respectively,
South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Delaware ratified the Bill, though New Hampshire rejected
the amendment on Congressional pay raises, and Delaware rejected the Congressional Apportionment
Amendment. This brought the total of ratifying states
to six of the required ten, but the process stalled in other states: Connecticut and Georgia
found a Bill of Rights unnecessary and so refused to ratify, while Massachusetts ratified
most of the amendments, but failed to send official notice to the Secretary of State
that it had done so.In February through June 1790, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island
ratified eleven of the amendments, though all three rejected the amendment on Congressional
pay raises. Virginia initially postponed its debate, but
after Vermont was admitted to the Union in 1791, the total number of states needed for
ratification rose to eleven. Vermont ratified on November 3, 1791, approving
all twelve amendments, and Virginia finally followed on December 15, 1791. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson announced
the adoption of the ten successfully ratified amendments on March 1, 1792.==Judicial interpretation==
The Seventh Amendment is generally considered one of the more straightforward amendments
of the Bill of Rights. Scholar Charles W. Wolfram states that it
has usually “been interpreted as if it were virtually a self-explanatory provision”.Unlike
most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights, the Seventh Amendment has never been applied
to the states. The Supreme Court stated in Walker v. Sauvinet
(1875), Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad v. Bombolis (1916) and Hardware Dealers’ Mut. Fire Ins. Co. of Wisconsin v. Glidden Co. (1931) that
states were not required to provide jury trials in civil cases. Nonetheless, most states voluntarily guarantee
the right to a civil jury trial, and they must do so in certain state court cases that
are decided under federal law.===Historical test===The first judicial opinion issued on the amendment
came in United States v. Wonson (1812), in which the federal government wished to retry
the facts of a civil case it had lost against Samuel Wonson. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, acting
as a circuit court judge, ruled for Wonson, stating that to retry the facts of the case
would violate the Seventh Amendment. Regarding the amendment’s phrase “the rules
of common law”, Story wrote: Beyond all question, the common law here alluded
to is not the common law of any individual state, (for it probably differs in all), but
it is the common law of England, the grand reservoir of all our jurisprudence. It cannot be necessary for me to expound the
grounds of this opinion, because they must be obvious to every person acquainted with
the history of the law. Wonson’s ruling established the historical
test, which interpreted the amendment as relying on English common law to determine whether
a jury trial was necessary in a civil suit. Applying the historical test in Parsons v.
Bedford (1830), for example, the Supreme Court found that jury trials were not constitutionally
guaranteed for cases under maritime law, an area in which English common law did not require
juries. The Court further clarified this rule as a
fixed historical test in Thompson v. Utah (1898), which established that the relevant
guide was English common law of 1791, rather than that of the present day. In Chauffeurs, Teamsters, and Helpers Local
No. 391 v. Terry (1990), the Court explained that the right to a jury trial provided by
the Seventh Amendment encompasses more than the common law forms of action recognized
in 1791 (when the Bill of Rights was ratified), but rather any lawsuit in which parties’ legal
rights were to be determined, as opposed to suits that only involve equitable rights and
remedies.In Galloway v. United States (1943), the Court permitted a directed verdict (a
verdict ordered by a judge on the basis of overwhelming lack of evidence) in a civil
suit, finding that it did not violate the Seventh Amendment under the fixed historical
test. The Court extended the amendment’s guarantees
in Beacon Theatres v. Westover (1959) and Dairy Queen, Inc. v. Wood (1962), ruling in
each case that all issues that required trial by jury under English common law also required
trial by jury under the Seventh Amendment. This guarantee was also further extended to
shareholder suits in Ross v. Bernhard (1970) and to copyright infringement lawsuits in
Feltner v. Columbia Pictures TV (1998).In Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc. (1996),
the Court ruled that many parts of patent claims are questions of law rather than of
fact, and that the Seventh Amendment guarantee of a jury trial therefore does not necessarily
apply. Lawsuits against the federal government itself
do not receive Seventh Amendment protections due to the doctrine of sovereign immunity. In Lehman v. Nakshian (1981), the Court ruled
that citizens may sue the federal government only in cases where such right has been granted
by act of Congress.===Jury size===
The Supreme Court has held that the Seventh Amendment’s guarantee of a jury trial also
guarantees a jury of sufficient size. The Court found a six-member jury sufficient
to meet the amendment’s requirements in Colgrove v. Battin (1973).===Twenty Dollars Clause===
Little historical evidence exists to interpret the Twenty Dollars Clause, which was added
in a closed session of the Senate, and is often omitted in judicial and scholarly discussion
of the amendment. A Harvard Law Review article described it
as “mysterious … of shrouded origin and neglected for two centuries”, stating that
“no one believes that the Clause bears on the right protected by the Seventh Amendment.” According to law professor Philip Hamburger,
this clause was intended to become obsolete by inflation, so that its application to more
cases would be phased out gradually.Congress has never extended federal diversity jurisdiction
to amounts that small. Under federal law (28 U.S.C. §1332), the
amount in dispute must exceed $75,000 for a case to be heard in federal court based
on diversity of the parties’ citizenship (the parties are from different states or different
countries). However, civil cases may arise in federal
court that are not diversity cases (e.g., in places like the District of Columbia that
are federal jurisdictions), in which case the Twenty Dollars Clause may apply.===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 guaranteeing that facts decided
by that jury cannot be reexamined at a later date. Exceptions to this prohibition are possible
if it is later determined that legal errors were made or evidence submitted was insufficient
in some way. In such cases the reexamination is conducted
by another jury so that the decision is still left in the hands of the people. The clause applies only to cases where private
rights—i.e., rights that exist between private citizens—have been violated. 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.”Justice Samuel Nelson wrote the opinion of the Supreme Court
in The Justices v. Murray, 76 U.S. 9 Wall. 274 (1869), in which he 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.'”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.==Notes

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