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hi this is Kim from Khan Academy today we're learning more about the seventh amendments to the US Constitution the 7th amendment guarantees the right to juries in civil cases when the value in controversy is greater than $20 to learn more about the 7th amendment I talked with two experts Renee Lerner is the Donald Philip Rothschild research professor of law at George Washington University Law School she specializes in u.s. and English legal history and she's written extensively about the history of American juries suja thomas is the Pierre and Sarah Peterson professor of law at the Illinois College of Law her research interests include jury provisions in the Bill of Rights Civil Procedure and employment law so professor Thomas can you tell us a little bit about why the framers were so interested in protecting this right in particular historically there were juries in England and a lot of our Constitution is based on what occurred in in England because of course that was our historical origin and so colonists were really familiar with juries and they knew that the jury restrained government and preserved Liberty and they also knew what could happen without juries and so because of this history juries were really important to Americans and they put it in the Declaration of Independence and the framers in general were very enthusiastic about juries one of the reasons was that juries had been important in helping to nullify British laws that the American colonists didn't like so an example of these laws is the customs taxes these were taxes on shipping and we're very unpopular especially in New England and what would happen is merchants the Boston merchants were supposed to pay a customs tax on merchandise that they imported into Boston and also in certain cases exported what would happen is the Boston merchants we try to import goods and not pay the tax and sometimes they would get caught by customs inspectors if a customs inspector caught one of these merchants trying to smuggle in goods the customs collector would seize the ship and the cargo and hold it essentially for ransom the customs inspector would then bring an action a lawsuit against the ship and the cargo in a court called the court of Admiralty which was a type of Court that sat without a jury and the judge in the court of Admiralty would ordinarily require the merchant to pay a large fine in order to get back his ship and his cargo so what the Boston merchants started to do they were deeply unhappy about these fines they would bring a an action in a court that sat with a jury it was an action for trespass against the customs inspector they knew that juries could be really useful because for example there was concerns about protecting litigants from bad laws also concerns about actions by the led by the executive and they were also concerned about corrupt and biased judges so for all of these reasons there was a real value put on civil juries just for our general information how exactly is a civil trial different from a criminal trial there's when in a civil trial someone is suing and wants damages for something that went wrong so if for example you're in an employment situation and you allege your employer discriminated against you you can bring a civil case and and you can and you can try to get damages or money for the wrong that was committed against you in that type of case people who are trying to prove the case have to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that this is what happened to you that discrimination occurred then on in the criminal context on the other hand someone is accused of doing a crime and sometimes there's a grand jury that decides whether that case should proceed against you and then a criminal jury decides whether or not you committed that crime and they have to decide by beyond a reasonable doubt and so the standard is different it's for criminal cases it's beyond a reasonable doubt versus in a civil case by a preponderance of the evidence so it's it's a higher standard to prove someone as guilty of a crimes and in a civil case to actually win so you see this in the OJ Simpson case where he's not convicted but they actually sued him and so well in a civil case and they actually won and there were different standards you kind of see throughout the fourth through eighth amendments which deal with the protection of the accused quite an emphasis on juries so why were the framers so keen on juries in the Revolutionary era in particular when tensions between the American colonies and Britain were very high juries were one way that Americans could get popular representation in government they were not allowed to elect members of the British Parliament they did elect members of the colonial legislatures but increasingly the British government was taking power from the colonial legislatures so this was a way that without an elected legislature the colonists could get representation and John Adams wrote a very interesting passage in his diary in 1771 he wrote that juries were like popularly elected legislators that they served that function in the American colonies there were some concerns about protection for debtors that was a big issue at the time and there were arguments that juries could really protect litigants from bad laws that the Legislature passed from actions by the executive and from potentially corrupt and biased judges so it wasn't the case that the the framers believed that the jury was actually perfect but they thought that the jury was the best decision maker so it seems that the seventh amendment has a very specific origin in the history of the Revolutionary War and in some things that were very dear to the founders what are some of the ways that it has kind of grown and changed in the years since then so there is as you see in the amendment a $20 a mounting controversy requirement is what we call it and that remains in force today even though there's been considerable inflation and but still we've stuck with the $20 limit the difficulty is today that very very few cases go to juries and that is true of the federal courts and also the state courts yeah that's one of the astounding things that many people don't know about that that less than 1% of civil cases and we have the federal courts as well as the state courts but in both of those venues federal courts and state courts less than 1% of civil cases are tried by juries Wow so what happened there how did we get from a point where the majority of the cases went before a jury to less than 1% one thing that's affected how many cases go to a jury is that judges now have more power to resolve disputes at an early stage parties can file a motion to dismiss the case if they argue that the other side did not have a claim that would hold up under law judges Kansas the case if they find that that's correct and around the 1930 period of time you actually see all number of decisions against URI Authority where the Supreme Court actually had ruled in favor of jury authority on this exact same issue and so something's going on in this time frame around the 1930 period of time and it's it's not exactly easy to figure out what that is but some of the things that I've seen in some of the public documents that are out there you actually see comments including by a former Supreme Court justice saying that you know judges are actually better than juries and and in a new york state judge stated around this time gasps judge to be preferred to a jury and so that's certainly part of what's going on in the story and then part of the coin was going on the story maybe to do with the the juries getting more diverse around this period of time and and maybe there's an effort by other certain parts of society to not want diverse juries to decide their cases so these are just a couple of different ideas that I think are contributors to why juries decide few cases today interesting and so by this diversity do you mean like diversity of people from different classes or different genders or different races what kind of diversity is entering in that time period particularly we're talking about we'd be talking about sex and race yeah yeah but I think class is definitely you know part of that today as well and then another example that you know is something that I've spent a good amount of time in my career talking about is something called summary judgment and so summary judgment is a procedure where a judge can decide what a reasonable jury could find and if the judge decides a reasonable jury could not find for the person who brought the case the judge can dismiss the case so someone brings a case for employment discrimination and there's discovery and that is you know documents being exchanged between the parties and depositions or questions being asked between different witnesses and so then an employer can say okay you accused us of employment discrimination but we think you don't have enough evidence and judge we think that no reasonable jury could find for this employee you should order summary judgement for us and throw this case out of court and what has actually happened is in over 70% of the cases where a employer makes a motion for summary judgment in an employment discrimination case that case will be dismissed in whole or in part so judges can in certain cases end the case before it gets to a jury but by far the most common way that a dispute ends is by settlement between the parties what has encouraged settlement is that it's much more expensive to bring a case and go to jury verdict today than it was back at the time of the founding one of the reasons it's so much more expensive is that we now have a system of what we call discovery that is the parties can ask for information from each other before the trial they can formally question witnesses they can ask for documents they can require questions to be answered all of that goes on before the trial and that's expensive to do and they want to save money they want to save money that's involved in this pretrial discovery and they want to save money at the trial and so they go ahead and they settle the reason it's so important for the parties to save money is that in our system each side in dispute in a case has to pay its own legal fees even if they win and so the parties have an incentive to settle the case that way they save expenses and also they get a predictable result many parties are afraid of going before a jury because they don't know what the result will be for all these reasons settlement has become very important much more so than it was the time of the founding so we've learned that the seventh amendments protections for jury trials in civil cases derives from the context of the Revolutionary War when colonists felt that juries were perhaps the only way they could have a voice in the law despite this protection fewer than 1% of civil cases go to trial today since trials have become prohibitively expensive and their outcomes are unpredictable to learn more about the seventh amendment visit the National Constitution Center's interactive Constitution and Khan Academy's resources on US government and politics