Today, a brief visit with the Seventh Amendment, a particularly plain section of the Bill of Rights: . As written, it states that:
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.
Barring the historical artifact of “twenty dollars,” the amendment is rather transparent (so much so that is difficult to avoid plagiarizing Wikipedia in summarizing it) and provides 1) a guarantee that a person won’t have a jury-settled civil case reopened by another court and 2) the right to a jury trial in civil cases once they’ve reached a certain level. When the stakes are high enough, it seems, the relative safety of numbers that a jury provides might just help.
I don’t have much to say about the Seventh Amendment as such, except to say that it (along with the Sixth Amendment), makes me think a little bit about the idea of the jury. I realize that for most of us when we hear the word “jury,” our mind quickly jumps to the idea of jury duty, which almost immediately transitions to us thinking of ways that we might get out of it. For many Americans, jury duty often seems to come at inconvenient times and can be an imposition for those whose work and livelihood will be affected. And nevertheless, there it is.
Trial by a jury–whether in criminal or civil cases–is one of those interesting facets of the justice system that I like. On the one hand it keeps us from necessarily suffering under the single will of a questionable judge, while on the other it reminds us that, in a certain sense, all justice is the organized opinion of the masses enforced upon the members of society.
The presence of jury also says something about inherent democracy, wherein it is, ostensibly, our peers that evaluate our guilt, innocence, responsibility, etc. Though there can be mistakes made and flaws that complicate this ideal, it persists. For the accused, a jury means having a chance to make a particular case to people with various viewpoints, sympathies, and thought processes rather than just one. Having a jury increases the likelihood, therefore, that more aspects of your case will be considered. When life or livelihood is on the line, this makes sense.
Considering its value and place in our society, let us remember its importance the next time we’re faced with an “invitation” from the government to serve on a jury. Because, quite literally, there may come a day when by the measure we measure, so shall it be measured unto us.