The Seventh Amendment of the US Constitution is a provision regarding when jury trial may be appropriate in civil suits. The text of the amendment is the following:
- "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."
The amendment states that any amount sought in a suit $20 US Dollars (USD) or more would basically allow for people to demand their right to have their cause heard in common law or civil court operated on a federal level by a jury of their peers. Of course, $20 USD was a great deal when the Bill of Rights was first established. Today we would be hard pressed to find someone seeking a jury trial when suing for that amount.
The main point of the Seventh Amendment was to create distinction between the work of a judge and that of a jury in operation in Federal civil court. Judges were there to instruct juries, to deliberate which evidence could be legally heard, and to advise juries on matters of law. The jury needed to hear the facts in evidence, determine which ones were most weighted, and determine if a lawsuit brought was viable or not. Juries can also decide which amounts to award in most suits.
In civil court and in common law in England, on which the Seventh Amendment is based, a judge’s responsibility should not include barraging the jury with opinions about the case or instructing jurors how to rule. Both judge and jury had vital roles, which were separate and discrete, and the system worked most fairly when these roles were maintained. The framers of the constitution sought the same distinction in American courts, resulting in inclusion of the Seventh Amendment.
It should be noted that this right in the Seventh Amendment to have a civil trial heard by a jury is applied at the federal level. State courts don’t necessarily honor this provision in the Seventh Amendment, though many do, unless the matter they are deliberating on falls under the province of federal law. People bringing a suit do not have to have a jury trial. Individuals can waive their right to a jury trial if they so choose, and their may be other matters of settling certain civil suits or through mediation or through negotiation and settlement before a case comes to trial.