This guarantee of jury trial in civil suits at common law “where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars” (a much bigger sum of money in 1789 than now) was included in the Bill of Rights chiefly because several of the States’ ratifying conventions had recommended it. It applies only to Federal cases, of course, and it may be waived. The primary purpose of the Amendment was to preserve the historic line separating the jury, which decides the facts, from the judge, who applies the law. It applies only to suits at common law, meaning “rights and remedies peculiarly legal in their nature.” It does not apply to cases in equity or admiralty law, where juries are not used. In recent years, increasingly large monetary awards to plaintiffs by juries in civil cases have brought the jury system somewhat into disrepute.
Here again the Bill of Rights reaffirms venerable protections for persons accused of crimes. The Amendment guarantees jury trial in criminal cases; the right of the accused “to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation”; also the rights to confront witnesses, to obtain witnesses through the arm of the law, and to have lawyers’ help.
Although they had few early victories, these organizations began to create a body of law that made First Amendment freedoms, privacy rights, and the principles of equality and fundamental fairness come alive. Gradually, the Bill of Rights was transformed from a "parchment barrier" to a protective wall that increasingly shielded each individual's unalienable rights from the reach of government.
The ACLU, the NAACP, founded in 1909, and labor unions, whose very right to exist had not yet been recognized by the courts, began to challenge constitutional violations in court on behalf of those who had been previously shut out. This was the beginning of what has come to be known as public interest law. They provided the missing ingredient that made our constitutional system and Bill of Rights finally work.
In 1920, a small group of visionaries came together to discuss how to start the engine. Led by Roger Baldwin, a social worker and labor activist, the group included Crystal Eastman, Albert DeSilver, Jane Addams, Felix Frankfurter, Helen Keller and Arthur Garfield Hayes. They formed the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and dedicated themselves to holding the government to the Bill of Rights' promises.
As we celebrate the 4th of July, let's ask the question: Didthe Framers make a mistake by amending the Constitution with theBill of Rights? Would Americans have more liberty today hadthere not been a Bill of Rights? You say, "Williams, what'swrong with you? America without the Bill of Rights is unthinkable!" Let's look at it.
After the 1787 Constitutional Convention, there were intenseratification debates about the proposed Constitution. Both JamesMadison and Alexander Hamilton expressed grave reservations aboutThomas Jefferson's, George Mason's and others insistence that theConstitution be amended by the Bill of Rights. It wasn't becausethey had little concern with liberty guarantees. Quite to thecontrary they were concerned about the loss of liberties.
Alexander Hamilton added that a Bill of Rights would "contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this veryaccount, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more [powers]than were granted. . . . [it] would furnish, to men disposed tousurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power." Going backto our hopscotch example, those who would usurp our God-givenliberties might enact a law banning our playing hide-and-seek. They'd justify their actions by claiming that nowhere in theConstitution is there a guaranteed right to play hide-and-seek. They'd say, "hopscotch yes, but hide-and-seek, no."
To mollify Alexander Hamilton's fears about how a Bill ofRights might be used as a pretext to infringe on human rights,the Framers added the Ninth Amendment. The Ninth Amendmentreads: "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rightsshall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained bythe people." Boiled down to its basics, the Ninth Amendment saysit's impossible to list all of our God-given or natural rights. Just because a right is not listed doesn't mean it can be infringed upon or disparaged by the U.S. Congress. Applying theNinth Amendment to our example: just because playing hopscotch islisted and hide-and-seek is not doesn't mean that we don't have aright to play hide-and-seek.
The first ten amendments, which make up the so-called Bill of Rights, were designed to calmthe fears of the mild opponents of the Constitution in its original form.
Some of the framers had argued that the Bill of Rights was not necessary since the national government did not in any case have the power to do what was expressly forbidden in the proposed amendments.Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, butupon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces,or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall anyperson be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb;nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be takenfor public use, without just compensation.In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.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-examinedin any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusualpunishments inflicted.The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.The most important rights protected by the U.S.
And being desirous of enshrining these principles and the human rights and fundamental freedoms derived from them, in a Bill of Rights which shall reflect the respect of Parliament for its constitutional authority and which shall ensure the protection of these rights and freedoms in Canada: