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News > The Seventh Amendment
The Seventh Amendment

Posted 5/6/2013   Updated 5/6/2013 Email story   Print story


by Airman 1st Class Stephanie Englar
14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

5/6/2013 - COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- The right to a jury trial for civil cases in a federal court originates in the Seventh Amendment. Trial by jury dates back to the 1700's and, like the entirety of our legal system, is influenced by English common law.

English common law evolved for centuries prior to introduction to the United States. For over 400 years, common law emphasized the idea of a central judge and the need to bring disputes before a court.

Before 1701, judges in England were considered servants of King George and made their rulings in cases in his favor, even if that meant being inaccurate. English judges were given their freedom from the King with the Act of Settlement in 1701; however, judges in the American colonies still remained partial toward the King and their rulings weren't always equitable.

In addition to partiality toward the King, another problem with early Colonial common law was that many Colonial judges did not understand it, and few lawyers studied it.

William Blackstone wrote Commentaries on the Laws of England to provide a guide. The commentaries were spread among four volumes written between the years 1765 and 1769. Blackstone's commentaries, still quoted today, greatly influenced Colonial acceptance of English common law principles.

When King George III abolished trial by jury in the Colonies, the Colonists felt it went against their common law rights and it stoked the fire for the American Revolution. It was for this reason, that when the Framers created the U.S. Constitution, they wanted to make sure there was an equitable court system.

The Framers maintained most of the same principles as the English court system but included a few revisions. The two clauses that were added were the "Twenty Dollar Clause" and the "Re-examination Clause."

The Twenty Dollar Clause covers civil cases in a federal court. If a case involves less than $20, it cannot be handled in a federal court. Twenty dollars may not seem like a huge amount today, however, in the 1700's $20 was a lot of money. Due to revision from Congress, the amount is now $75,000.

The Re-examination Clause forbids any court from overturning any factual determinations made by a jury, unless they are clearly erroneous. Juries must listen to a case from start to finish unless a claim lacks evidence.

The Seventh Amendment supports the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to guarantee an individual the right to an impartial jury.

The Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendments all cover different aspects of the court system. Together, they outline everything from the rights of the accused to the responsibilities of the jury. Whether it's by ensuring the right to a speedy trial or making sure a case has substantial evidence to prove guilt, the Amendments work together to ensure everyone is tried fairly and by an impartial jury of their peers.

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