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Good Natured Civility
We rank another amendment based on the idea that we can sue each other in court and be good-natured about the outcome.
Even though people are stupid, we usually think the best of them. At least, I still think we do. I know I do. I give people the benefit of the doubt that we are good-natured and want to do the right thing.
Our system of government is based on that idea. Sure, we screw it up, but at least we do the screwing and not get screwed by someone we can’t control. We have the right to vote. Until that is permanently taken away, our goodness usually shows up to save us.
When we think about going to trial, we want good people to decide our fate. If we are accused of breaking the law, we know we aren’t above it because our peers will determine our fates. You can’t argue that there is a better justice system than peer justice.
Unless you can, then I’m all ears. Or eyes, in case you want to write something in the comments.
The Framers had this good-natured idea in mind when they developed the Bill of Rights – particularly protecting citizens regarding the judiciary.
First, the Sixth Amendment, a lovely amendment I have yet to rank, provides the right to a speedy criminal trial. As the defendant, you can face your accuser and be judged by good-natured people who also happen to be stupid when it comes to voting.
But this brings us to the Seventh Amendment, which focuses on juries involving civil trials. It’s when the state hasn’t decided you did something criminally, but others want to sue you like you did anyway.
I’m sorry to interrupt. This is a chance to suggest that if you are not a subscriber, go ahead and subscribe to Okay History, a reader-supported newsletter. Thanks!
Let’s dive in and be civil.
12: Amendment VII
Its purpose: Establishes the right to a jury trial in certain civil cases and inhibits the court from overturning findings of facts.
Year proposed: 1789
Year Ratified: 1791
Civil cases in federal law are those where two or more parties are involved in a dispute. The plaintiff does the complaining, while the defendant does all the martyring.
The Seventh Amendment is here to ensure there is a level playing field. So if you want to sue someone, say, Harlan Crow, having a civil trial heard by a jury prevents it from being only heard by a judge who may or may not be on the receiving end of lavish gifts because they are friends.
Juries can also be unpredictable, so facing the prospect of one more often than not will force the two or more parties to negotiate a deal, preventing the entire process from moving forward and disrupting regular people’s lives who may want to spend their free time on hobbies, like ranking the amendments to the Constitution.
The complexity of any given case can eclipse the goodness of people. Civil trials regarding patents are incredibly confusing for juries because they involve technologies, math, and other things most of us slept through while we were in school.
People are also emotional beings. A civil jury can be picked based on perceived emotional makeup rather than just the facts of the case. It’s always amazing how we discriminate in jury selection – but I don’t have a solution.
The finding of facts by a jury can cause a lot of confusion regarding the Seventh Amendment. Lots of legal nerding-out happens when this amendment is argued before the court. Once the jury decides something, the court can’t throw it out.
It also can be pretty expensive to have a civil trial by jury. In modern history, political parties aligned with business interests have railed against the idea of a jury trial in civil cases. You tend to see phrases like out-of-control verdicts and frivolous lawsuits get tossed around.
Are there instances where these types of things happen? Of course. But do we need to put caps on verdicts that may seem a bit much for the pocketbooks of those found guilty? Probably not. It’s not my money, right?
There are phrases that I don’t believe are real, like common sense—and free market. But in the instance of jury decisions, I tend to think that they work themselves out like a free market based on the idea that common sense is real, even though we really only have rational thinking.
Who proposed it?
Our man, James Madison. He was just cranking out amendments to get this Constitution over the line. The 1st Congress looked at it, then rejected the idea of a jury trial in civil trials, only to be rebuked by the public and a few state conventions, who demanded that it be put back in.
Congress then turned around and instituted a $20 minimum to proceed, which would be about $600 in today’s money. The minimum amount rarely justifies denying any party the right to a jury trial.
Why did I rank it here?
I think this is a bedrock Amendment. But there are plenty of other bedrock amendments, and the Seventh Amendment gets pushed out of the top ten.
Okay, let me know what you think of my ranking.
Have you sat on a jury? I’ve been called a few times, all of them while living in Washington, DC. Most of the time, they tell me they don’t need me, but once I made it to the court – only to not be called.
I think I’d be a heck of a juror.
They would probably make me the head person. What’s that position called? Foreperson?
I’m a good-natured leader of people. Have I reminded you lately that I never lost an election? Oh, I haven’t? You can read about it here.
Anonymous was gone most of the week, so it was guy’s night at the house for multiple days. This means I will probably be asked to do some chores around the house, but don’t worry, I’ll be back on Monday with another Maundy Monday Newsletter – giving you all the historical events of the week.
Have a great weekend!