Ranking the Bill of Rights, Number 7: The Seventh Amendment

At this point, it may appear that I’m just being lazy and simply matching the number of the ranking to the number of the amendment. However, if this were to continue, I would be quite embarrassed when it came to filling the number two ranking since I have already ranked the Second Amendment. Suffice it to say, then, that is whole ranking-matching-amendment-number bit is mere coincidence.

With that said, I present the fightin’ seventh: “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.

So, the Seventh Amendment essentially ensures that litigants in civil trials have a trial by jury and that they will not undergo double jeopardy. It’s a poor man’s (well, if he wins the civil suit, he may become rich if the suit significantly exceeds the paltry twenty dollar minimum) Sixth Amendment, a civil version of the Sixth, which deals with criminal trials. No double jeopardy and the promotion of a jury trial are admirable goals consistent with the Constitution’s philosophy. I have little philosophical qualms with the intentions of the amendment.

So, why the bottom-half ranking?

One issue with this amendment that causes it’s low ranking is that it has less impact than other amendments since it has not been incorporated—meaning states need not follow the amendment.

A second issue can be interpreted as a weakness or strength. The Seventh is one of the most fascinating from a jurisprudential perspective because it just begs for originalism. In order to interpret the amendment, a judge has to consider “the rules of the common law” which current precedent holds are the rules of the common law when the Seventh Amendment was adopted. The result is that the Seventh Amendment does not apply to administrative law (in courts of equity), admiralty, and maritime law since these proceedings were either unknown to or not incorporated as part of the common law.

Thirdly, let’s be frank: The Seventh Amendment is kind of bland. It’s not novel, it doesn’t have the shock value of the First (No law can violate freedom of speech? Not one?!), it lacks the reach of the Fourth, or the flat-out coolness of the Third.

But, it fairly straightforwardly advances the concept of trial by jury. For that, it places seventh.

2 responses to this post.

  1. […] then, places 6th, with its obscurity complemented by its clarity and philosophical importance. And, as I alluded to earlier, the Third Amendment is cool: It makes for good jokes and comics, like this […]

    Reply

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