The First Freedoms
The Privacy Amendments
The 5th Amendment
The 6th Amendment
Civil Trials
The Interpretive Rules

7th Amendment

The Addition of the 7th Amendment to the Bill of Rights

Even though they eventually ratified the Constitution, the state conventions were not reassured by the Federalists’ arguments. Except for South Carolina, all of the states that requested amendments asked that a guarantee of civil jury trials be included. Moreover, several states proposed to limit the federal appellate power to a review of the legal rulings of judges, thus preventing federal appeals courts from reviewing the factual findings of juries.

Madison originally proposed two separate amendments to address these two distinct requests. His proposal had suggested that “no appeal to [the Supreme Court] shall be allowed where the value in controversy shall not amount to — dollars: nor shall any fact triable by jury, according to the course of common law, be otherwise re-examinable than may consist with the principles of common law.” The “value in controversy” provision was designed as an additional limit on the appellate power of the federal courts, something also requested by some states. The House filled in Madison’s blank with “one thousand dollars” but otherwise left it largely the same.

The Senate Changes the 7th Amendment

The protection for jury trials in all “suits at common law” was in a separate amendment. The Senate combined into one amendment the provisions for civil trials and appellate jurisdiction; and then, for whatever reason, they changed not only the dollar amount but also its meaning and context. Their version, which is what we now see in the 7th Amendment, was: “In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved,” followed by the Appellate Clause. Madison and the House had sought to limit the number of cases that would be appealed to the Supreme Court by setting a high bar of $1,000. But the Senate struck out that limitation and sought instead to limit the number of civil cases requiring a trial by jury by erecting a low bar of $20. But there are no records of any relevant debates to give us insight into either this question or the amendment as a whole.