Amendment VII

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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.

April 3, 2012 – Essay # 32 – Amendment VII: Trier of Fact Versus Law – Guest Essayist: J. Eric Wise, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP law firm

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http://vimeo.com/39680022

 

Amendment VII:

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.

If you have good facts, pound the facts; if you have good law, pound the law; if you have nothing, pound the table.  Aside from the good rule of focusing attention on the areas where one’s case has strength, advocacy, as a form of rhetoric, also requires knowing your audience.  In American criminal and civil procedure, where there is a jury, the jury is a trier of fact and the judge makes determinations of law.

The jury is a legal invention that can be traced back to at least 11th Century England, when the Domesday Book was assembled from information gathered by juries empaneled to catalogue property holdings throughout the realm.  Juries of local people were assumed to be familiar with the local facts that would be the basis of the catalogue.

As the use of juries expanded, juries came to be considered a bulwark against tyranny, because while magistrates might align with a king, a jury of peers would check the king’s power at trial.  The Bill of Rights protects jury trials in civil and criminal matters.

The Sixth Amendment provides “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to . . . trial by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law.”  The Seventh Amendment provides “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 common law.”

While most state constitutions have jury clauses, the Supreme Court has determined that the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury in criminal cases extends to the states through the operation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment under the doctrine known as “substantive due process.”  However, the right to a trial in the state and district where the crime is committed, known as the Vicinage Clause, is not incorporated into the Fourteenth Amendment against the states.  The right to a jury trial in a civil case is also not protected in state proceedings, unless protected under state law.

In jury trials, judges do not try questions of fact.  Rather judges determine questions of law, including questions regarding the procedures by which the facts are developed in court.  Judges further instruct the jury as to what is the law to which the facts are to be applied.  In certain cases, juries may refuse to determine the facts at all and engage in what is known as jury nullification to satisfy its own views of what the law should be in the particular case.  Arguments run here and there as to whether this is a check and balance of the justice system or whether it is a dereliction of the duties of jurors.

In certain cases and courts the judge is both the trier of fact and the trier of law.  Commercial parties frequently waive the right to a jury trial.  Administrative courts, as administrators, and bankruptcy courts, as courts of equity, largely do not employ juries.  This is in part based on the opinion that the subject matter of administrative law and commercial issues may be too sophisticated for a jury.  Left and Right take varying and perhaps contradictory positions on this.  Some on the Right advocate for removal of juries in medical malpractice cases.  The plaintiffs bar howls.  The Left admires administrative law and great bureaucracies.  They call it job creation.  Almost all commercial interests are satisfied that juries are generally absent from involvement in bankruptcy cases, which require rapid determinations and understanding of complex financial issues.

As usual, Ronald Reagan may have put it best.  In his First Inaugural Address he said first:  “[W]e have been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people.  But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?” and then he said “Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it is not my intention to do away with government. It is, rather, to make it work—work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back.”

J. Eric Wise is a partner in the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, where he practices restructuring and finance.

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April 2, 2012 – Essay #31 – Amendment VII: Right to Trial in Civil Disputes – Guest Essayist: Julia Shaw, Research Associate and Program Manager in the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation

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http://vimeo.com/39609587

 

Amendment VII:

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.

Right to Trial by Jury in Civil Cases

No one likes jury duty. When the summons arrives in the mail, most Americans look to check the box that gets them out of service. Why lose a day of work to spend a day deciding some dispute about a fence or a car accident?

Far from a wasted day,  Alexis de Tocqueville praised the jury service in Democracy in America “as a school, free of charge and always open, where each juror comes to be instructed on his rights, where he enters into daily communication with the most instructed and most enlightened members of the elevated classes, where the laws are taught to him a practical manner and are put within reach within his intelligence by the efforts of the attorneys, the advice of the judge, and they very passions of the parties.” Indeed, de Tocqueville attributes Americans’ “practical intelligence and good political sense” to their maintenance of the civil jury.

At the Constitutional Convention, Hugh Williamson argued that the right to jury in civil trials should be included in the Constitution. Two delegates moved to insert the sentence “And a trial by jury shall be preserved as usual in civil cases” in Article III, but the Convention rejected this wording and did not include it in the Constitution.

Its absence proved to be a grave political miscalculation. The lack of a specific protection the right to trial by jury in civil cases accounted for the greatest opposition to the Constitution. The Anti-Federalists suggested that the absence meant that the right to trial by jury in civil cases would be abolished. The Federalists defended the omission by arguing that Congress, not the Constitution, should determine the rules for civil cases. But, this was a weak argument for two reasons. First, twelve of the states’ constitutions protected the right to trial by jury in civil cases. Second, during the American Revolution, the colonists objected that Parliament had deprived them of their right to trial by jury. It’s no surprise then that Congress passed the Seventh Amendment guaranteeing the right to trial by jury in civil cases without debate.

Justice Joseph Story argued in Parsons v. Bedford (1830) that the Seventh Amendment applied to all suits except suits of equity and admiralty. The Supreme Court, however, ultimately developed a more limited interpretation. The Court argued that the clause applies to the kinds of cases that existed under English Common Law when the amendment was adopted. The Seventh Amendment does not apply to civil cases that are “suits at common law.” It also does not apply to cases when “public” or governmental rights are at issue or when there are no analogous historical cases with juries. Personal and property claims against the United States by Congress do not require juries. Parties can waive the right to a jury in civil trials. Unlike in 1791, jury trials for civil cases no longer require a unanimous verdict from a 12-person jury.

In contrast to broad support for the right to trial by jury in the 18th century, modern jurists do not see the right to jury in civil trials as fundamental to the U.S. legal system. This explains why, unlike the Sixth Amendment’s protection of the right to trial in criminal cases, the Right to Jury in Civil Cases Clause is not incorporated against the states. Unlike the Sixth Amendment, the Seventh Amendment applies only in federal courts. The Seventh Amendment joins the Second Amendment and the Grand Jury Clause as the few parts of the Bill of Rights that the Supreme Court has not incorporated against the states.

When that jury summons arrives in the mail, we should think about service not as a wasted day but as an opportunity to participate in the justice system and to gain a deeper understanding of our rights. As Tocqueville remarked that serving on a civil jury “teaches men the practice of equity. Each, in judging his neighbor, thinks that he could be judged in turn. That is above all true of the jury in a civil matter; there is almost no one who fears being the object of a criminal persecution one day; but everyone can have a lawsuit.”

Julia Shaw is Research Associate and Program Manager in the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation.

May 27, 2011 – Amendment VII of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: W. David Stedman and LaVaughn G. Lewis, Co-Editors, Our Ageless Constitution

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Amendment VII

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.

 

The following is excerpted with permission from the book Our Ageless Constitution [p.41]

Trial By Jury Of Peers Under Laws By Consent Of The People

The Constitution’s Ultimate Protection For Individuals From Government

“What a fine…consolation is it for a man, that he can be can be subjected to no laws which he does not make himself, or constitute some of his friends to make for him…What a satisfaction…that he can lie under…no guilt, be subjected to no punishment, lose none of his property…the necessaries, conveniences, or ornaments of life, which Providence has showered on him, but by the judgment of his peers, his equals, his neighbors…”

–John Adams

 

Americans often say they’re “innocent until proven guilty.” Most, however, give little thought to the very real Constitutional protections devised by the Founders for securing individual liberty from intrusion by arbitrary government power. Incorporated into their Constitution were two great methods of defending liberty:

 

  • Representation in the Lawmaking and Taxing Body

The PEOPLE, through their elected representatives, choose the laws by which they agree to be governed.

  • Trial By A Jury Of Peers

The PEOPLE, through a jury of twelve peers, have the final say about their guilt or innocence under those laws.

 

The people who settled this nation and who formed its government believed strongly that these were the two most important principles on which to build a Constitution for a free people.

As a matter of fact, the Continental Congress of 1774 had declared them to be the bulwarks of individual freedom and essential to the defense of all other freedoms, saying:

“The first grand right is that of the people having a share in their own government by their representatives chosen by themselves, and…of being ruled by laws which they themselves approve, not by edicts of men over whom they have no controul…

“The next great right is that of trial by jury. This provides that neither life, liberty nor property can be taken from the possessor, until twelve of his…countrymen…shall pass their sentence upon oath against him.”

John Adams called these two “popular powers…the heart and lungs…and without them,” he said, “the body must die…the government must become arbitrary.”

 

The  7th Amendment Defined

The Sixth Amendment assures that Americans receive a jury trial in criminal cases.  Similarly, the 7th amendment guarantees that same right for Americans in civil cases.  Unlike criminal cases, civil suits don’t require unanimity of the jurors – a simple majority can suffice – and per its terms, the 7th Amendment also provides that any conclusions of fact reached by the jurors cannot be set aside by a judge.

 

The following is excerpted with permission from the book Our Ageless Constitution [p.176]

Our Ageless Constitution

“The structure has been erected by architects of consummate skill and fidelity; its foundations are solid; its components are beautiful, as well as useful; its arrangements are full of wisdom and order…”

–Justice Joseph Story  –  Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 1789                                                                                                                                                          

The Qualities of Agelessness

America’s Constitution had its roots in the nature, experience, and habits of humankind, in the experience of the American people themselves-their beliefs, customs, and traditions, and in the practical aspects of politics and government. (See: Part I-Roots and Genius) It was based on the experience of the ages. Its provisions were designed in recognition of principles which do not change with time and circumstance, because they are inherent in human nature.

“The foundation of every government,” said John Adams, “is some principle or passion in the minds of the people.” The founding generation, aware of its unique place in the ongoing human struggle for liberty, were willing to risk everything for its attainment. Roger Sherman stated that as government is “instituted for those who live under it…it ought, therefore, to be so constituted as not to be dangerous to liberty.”And the American government was structured with that primary purpose in mind—the protection of the people’s liberty.

Of their historic role, in framing a government to secure liberty, the Framers believed that the degree of wisdom and foresight brought to the task at hand might well determine whether future generations would live in liberty or tyranny. As President Washington so aptly put it, “the sacred fire of liberty” might depend “on the experiment intrusted to the hands of the American people.” That experiment, they hoped, would serve as a beacon of liberty throughout the world.

The Framers of America’s Constitution were guided by the wisdom of previous generations and the lessons of history for guidance in structuring a government to secure for untold millions in the future the unalienable rights of individuals.

W. David Stedman is the retired Chairman of Stedman Corporation. Stedman was a founder of the National Center for America’s Founding Documents and the National Foundation for the Study of Religion and Economics. Stedman is Co-Editor with LaVaugn G. Lewis of Our Ageless Constitution and Rediscovering the Ideas of Liberty. A frequent lecturer on topics relating to the Constitution, America’s free enterprise system and role of the “business statesman,” Stedman holds earned degrees from Duke, Harvard, and Georgetown Universities and is a Distinguished Alumnus of Duke University.

LaVaughn G. Lewis is a former teacher. She served at the Stedman Corporation as Assistant to the Chairman and as researcher and writer. She is Co-Editor with W. David Stedman for Our Ageless Constitution and Rediscovering the Ideas of Liberty, and is a graduate of Pfeiffer University.