(Episode 25) Go Ahead and Start at Seamen: The Seventh Amendment

Welcome to Episode 6 of Season 3, listeners! For the first time in awhile, our topic doesn't require a breakdown into multiple parts. Get ready to learn some more about the Seventh Amendment, which states:

"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."

The Seventh Amendment contains two important clauses: (1) the right to a trial by jury in civil causes of a certain value, and (2) the "reexamination clause."

When you hear the word "trial," do you think of a civil or criminal case? (We're guessing criminal.) And when you hear the word "trial," you probably picture a jury, right? The reality is that less than 1% of civil cases filed in court get decided by juries - in part because the Seventh Amendment only applies to federal suits (not state), and in part because jury trials can be prohibitively expensive. It's also because the right only exists for "suits at common law" - meaning, suits that aren't brought in equity. (Don't worry - we cover common law versus equity in the episode, and we talk briefly about admiralty law - hence, the "Seamen.")

Historically, juries were incredibly important to colonists because it was one of the only ways they could really participate in governing themselves. That's why Hamilton specifically had to address why the right to juries in civil trials was missing from the body of the constitution. But what role do civil juries play today? Some scholars argue they cause more problems than they're worth.

Do you always have a right to a jury trial for civil cases? And (trigger warning re: the facts in the next link) what might happen if you don't follow the court's rules for requesting a jury in a civil case? What if the jury just has to address damages (i.e., how much money someone wins)?

Join us for a lively chat about the Seventh, the seas, and how SCOTUS sees it.

Some additional resources: