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Friday, October 07, 2005

Original intent and the 7th amendment

Amendment VII

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 reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Now how are we to interpert the words "twenty dollars." According to the plain meaning of words standard we should interpret them as meaning $ 20, but according to the original intent standard we must interpret them as refering to a very large sum of money, at least $ 1,000 at current price levels.

It seems that the founders, in their wisdom, forgot about inflation. This took a considerable act of uhm wisdom, since the USA had just experienced the most severe inflation on record (a record broken after 1918) as the Continental dollars issued by the continental congress lost 99% of their value becoming, in effect, continental pennies.

Are we to assume that the highly literate but not so numerate founding fathers inten ding to require jury trials for cases involving trivial sums ? Imagine if the Italian constitution specifically mentioned the sum of 20 lire ? I'd say that the passage of time and a good bit of inflation implies that strict constructivism is a non starter in this case. Thus not a legitimate guiding principle.

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