Feltner v. Columbia Pictures Television, Inc.

523 U.S. 340 (1998)

The Magna Carta, the first document to guarantee the English right of trial by jury.

The Seventh Amendment to the Constitution reads: 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.

Seventh Amendment jurisprudence is complicated because whether or not one has a right to a jury trial depends on the mostly-abolished law/equity distinction. The amendment preserves the British common law right to a jury trial, a right that was not won easily, and whose roots can be traced all the way back to the Magna Carta, pictured. The most dramatic exercise of the power of a jury is jury nullification. One of the most famous acts of nullification came in a case against William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania.

The right of juries in the US to engage in this practice has been repeatedly affirmed by the Supreme Court. However, in Sparf v U.S., the Court ruled that juries do not have to be informed that they have this right. In any event, the number of cases that are heard by juries has been steadily shrinking. Today, less than two percent of all federal cases are heard by juries.