Quick 'n' easy US Constitution question

Specifically about Article VII of the Bill of Rights

  1. Is the value of twenty dollars the one that was fixed originally or has it been uprated since then?

  2. If not, has the $20 threshold basically become obsolete since it is now such a trivial sum of money (at least in terms of a legal action).

  3. If that is the case, is this not an example of a case where the Constitution should have been periodically revised and updated to keep it in line with the original intentions?

  4. What could you have bought for $20 in 1789?

Hey, $20 couldn’t even buy you a phone call in 1789.

ISTR reading somewhere that that portion of the Constitution has basically been whittled away by case law and whatnot throughout the years. When I studied for the dreaded Constitution Test my senior year of high school, my little study guide had the obsolete parts of the Constitution written in blue ink. That section was in blue.

I’m sure you’ll want a better cite than “It was written in blue ink in my Constitution Test study guide,” but that’s all I’ve got.

As for question #4: I’m sure $20 could get you a slave in those days. I wonder if that isn’t the reason the threshold was set at $20 in the first place…

In answer to the questions posed by the OP:

  1. The Seventh Amendment has not itself been amended; the $20 value still applies.

  2. I would suspect that the $20 value was relatively irrelevant even in the late 1700’s; there is no indication why the Senate insisted on including this provision in the language of the amendment, and there is no record of debate on the amendment in either the House or the Senate, other than that the Senate concurred with the resolution of the House only upon inclusion of this dollar amount. One can speculate that the Senate was worried that, without some limit, the federal courts could end up with jury trials over ANY insignificant case.

  3. Actually, there is no real need to update the issue. As a practical matter, suits in common law in federal court rarely involve trivial amounts, since the costs of such actions are high. The amendment only applies to those cases under the common law as it existed in England in 1791 and only applies to federal courts, or to state courts which are entertaining suits under federal law. Most federal civil cases these days are based on causes of action that don’t fall under common law, allowing Congress or the courts themselves to establish who the ‘fact-finder’ will be for the newly created causes of action. In short, I doubt you find anyone suing in federal court under common law claiming a remedy of, say, $100.

For an interesting discussion of the amendment and the caselaw related to it, you can look here.

We had a thread on this subject in July. Insisting on a jury trial in a $20 case even where you’re entitled to one is a good way to piss off the judge.


How sad…

I mean, if the Constitution can be whittled-away by case law, then why even have a Constitution??

I suspect the same people who think certain parts of the Constitution are “obsolete” are the same people who think we have a “living” Constitution. <Gag>.

Oh, please. First of all, as the review of the cases at the site I provided shows, the amendment has not been “whittled away”. Second, only an idiot (yes, an idiot) would insist that the meaning of what was written two-hundred plus years ago should remain unreviewed today. I might remind people that Plessy v. Ferguson was the law of the land until the Supreme Court finally realized that ‘seperate but equal’ treatment didn’t equate to equal protection under the law. Or is anyone seriously contesting that Brown v. Board of Education should have been decided differently?

As time passes, and situations change, the Constitution grows with us. This prevents us from having to modify it every few years; instead we have the luxury of modifying it only when some pressing need for change is identified.

Of course, those who would sanctify the supposed original intent of the Constitution as they divine it probably also believe that the Bible should be literally interpreted, meaning, of course, that THEIR particular English translation of words in languages they can’t read or understand should be unquestionably accepted. To such rigid thinking we are, fortunately, as a nation not yet held hostage.

DS: That kind of ranting should be taken to The Pit. You’ve been here long enough that you should know this.

Thanks for the replies and thanks in particular for that link, DS. It has answered a number of other questions I had about the Constitution.