The Seventh Amendment extends the right to a jury trial to federal civil cases such as car accidents, disputes between corporations for breach of contract, or most discrimination or employment disputes.
The Seventh Amendment is ratified as part of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. The amendment extends the right to a jury trial in federal civil cases.
By Dec. 15, three-fourths of the states ratify the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. The amendments are meant to secure individual liberties and to maintain the balance of power between the federal government and the states. The 10th Amendment states that powers not delegated to the federal government belong to the states. Although not specified in the 10th Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in years to come that laws affecting family relations, commerce within a state’s borders, and local law enforcement fall within state authority.
In In re Henderson’s Distilled Spirits, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that parties in civil cases may agree to waive their Seventh Amendment right to a jury, and have the dispute resolved by a judge instead.
In Capital Traction Co. v. Hoft, based on the common-law tradition in England, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a civil jury is to have 12 members.
In Maxwell v. Dow, based on the common-law tradition in England, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a civil jury’s verdict must be unanimous.
In Minneapolis and St. Louis R. Co. v. Bombolis, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial in civil cases does not apply to civil trials in state courts. In reaching its decision, the Court looks to the due process clause of the 14th Amendment (the vehicle for applying the Bill of Rights to the states) and concludes that a jury trial in a civil case is not a fundamental due process right.
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are adopted, creating one system of procedures that applies to all civil cases conducted in federal court. Before the adoption of these rules, federal courts treated cases differently depending on whether the relief sought by the plaintiff was “legal” (such as monetary damages that punish the defendant for his or her conduct) or “equitable” (where the defendant is ordered to stop engaging in certain conduct).
In Galloway v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that federal judges are allowed to reject the verdict of the jury and direct that another verdict be entered – a procedure called a “directed verdict” – if the judge concludes that there is not sufficient evidence to support the jury’s decision. An angry dissent by three justices criticizes the ruling. They argue that it is part of a long history in which the Court “has slowly worn away a major portion of the essential guarantee of the Seventh Amendment.”
In Andres v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that when a defendant is found guilty of first-degree murder in a federal court, the jury verdict must be unanimous.
In Ross v. Bernhard, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that corporations enjoy the same right to a jury trial in federal civil lawsuits as private individuals do.
In Colgrove v. Battin, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Seventh Amendment is not violated when a civil jury comprises 6, not 12, members.
In Curtis v. Loether, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Seventh Amendment gives parties the right to a jury trial in all civil cases, even when the basis for the lawsuit is a congressionally enacted statute rather than a “common law” cause of action. The Court concludes that there is a two-part test for deciding whether a statute triggers a jury right: the kind of rights protected by the statute and the kind of remedy provided for under the statute.
In Atlas Roofing Co. v. OSHRC, the U.S. Supreme Court rules unanimously that it is not a violation of the Seventh Amendment for Congress to give authority to an administrative agency rather than a jury to decide whether a violation of a federal statute has occurred. The Court finds that Congress acted constitutionally when it created the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) to decide whether an Occupational Safety and Health Act violation has occurred.
In Tull v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that even if a civil defendant is entitled to a jury at the liability phase of a trial – when it is decided whether a law has been broken – the right does not necessarily extend to the penalty phase, when the amount of damages is decided. Under the Clean Water Act, a federal anti-pollution law, a defendant could request a jury to decide whether he or she broke a law. But the act gives the judge the right to decide what penalty should be imposed. The Court finds that this judge-only provision does not violate the Seventh Amendment because assessment of penalties does not involve the substance of a common-law right.
In Granfinanciera v. Nordberg, the U.S. Supreme Court clarifies its ruling in Atlas Roofing Co. v. OSHRC. In Atlas Roofing, the Court found that Congress can, when it passes a federal statute, give full authority to an administrative agency to decide cases brought under that statute, as long as the statute involves certain “public rights” that Congress has seen fit to create. The Court here rules that a right is “public” 1) if the federal government itself is a party to the lawsuit; or (2) if “Congress, acting for a valid legislative purpose pursuant to its constitutional powers” has created a right that is “so closely integrated into a public regulatory scheme as to be a matter appropriate for agency resolution with a limited involvement” by the federal courts. Otherwise, the claim is “private,” and a party should be allowed to have a jury rule on it.
In Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., the U.S. Supreme Court rules that under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, parties in civil cases cannot use race-based peremptory challenges to reject potential jurors.
In Markman v. Westview Instruments Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court announces a new test for deciding whether the Seventh Amendment’s jury right applies in a lawsuit brought under a federal statute. If there are no historical “common law” parallels to the claim asserted under the statute – the approach outlined in the Curtis and Tull decisions – then a court may merely look at past judicial decisions, known as “precedent,” as well as consider basic concerns of fairness, to decide whether the case should be tried by a judge alone or by a jury.