Seventh Amendment


  1. an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights, guaranteeing trial by jury.


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More About Seventh Amendment

What is the Seventh Amendment?

The Seventh Amendment is an amendment to the US Constitution that guarantees the right to a trial by jury in federal civil trials.

The Constitution of the United States is the document that serves as the  fundamental law of the country. An amendment is a change to something. An amendment to the Constitution is any text added to the original document since its ratification in 1788. The Constitution has been amended 27 times in American history.

The Seventh Amendment reads:

“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 Seventh Amendment has been interpreted to mean that the right to a trial by jury is guaranteed in federal civil cases. Additionally, this jury trial will follow the rules of common law and the jury’s decision cannot be reversed by a federal judge.

Let’s break this down a bit. A civil trial involves a disagreement between two people or groups, while a criminal trial involves a crime. A civil trial may be about a broken contract, for example.

Common law, the Supreme Court has ruled, means the common law as it was defined by English law when the amendment was ratified (1791).

The Supreme Court ruled also that the Seventh Amendment only applies to federal courts. State courts, where most trials occur, are not bound by the Seventh Amendment and don’t have to guarantee the right of a jury trial for civil cases. Instead,  each state has its own laws on the right to jury trials for civil cases. However, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia use the federal court system (not being states or having a state constitution), which means all civil trials held there are bound by the Seventh Amendment.

Still, juries are only used in less than one percent of all civil trials. Most civil trials, such as divorce trials or contract disputes, are settled by judges or magistrates.

Why is Seventh Amendment important?

The Second Amendment is one of 10 included in the Bill of Rights, a set of 10 amendments added to the Constitution almost immediately after that document was put into law. On December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights was ratified by the required three-fourths of the state legislatures and added to the Constitution.

The Seventh Amendment is unusual for a Constitutional amendment, because there has been very little debate over the amendment’s text. The few times the Supreme Court has interpreted the amendment, it was to clarify which courts it applies to (answer: federal courts) and which common law should be applied (answer: English common law as defined in 1791).

Did you know … ?

The $20 requirement stated in the amendment would be around $300 today, adjusting for inflation. Today, just filing the papers for a federal civil court case costs more than $300. As a result, we generally don’t see federal jury trials convened to settle disputes over $20.

What are real-life examples of Seventh Amendment?

In federal civil trials, the Seventh Amendment guarantees the defendant the  to a right to a jury such as the one seen in this courtroom sketch:

<img loading="lazy" src=";w=640" width="517" height="401" />

Marilyn Church / Library of Congress

Because most people will never be involved in a federal civil trial, most Americans are largely unfamiliar with the Seventh Amendment.

What other words are related to Seventh Amendment?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

The Seventh Amendment has been interpreted to mean that you have the right to a trial by jury during a state civil trial.




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