Charter of Liberty
by David Trumbull -- May 8, 2015
"We hold here that the right to a speedy trial is as fundamental as any of the rights secured by the Sixth Amendment. That right has its roots at the very foundation of our English law heritage. Its first articulation in modern jurisprudence appears to have been made in Magna Carta..." -- Chief Justice Earl Warren delivering the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in the matter of Klopper v. North Carolina, March 13, 1967.
Magna Carta (or, in English, "the Great Charter") was signed by King John (best remembered in the popular mind as "Bad King John" of the Robin Hood tales) on June 15, 1215. The document, which marks its 800th anniversary next month, is, in important ways, the foundation of the liberties of English and American law. The origin was a dispute between the king and the barons, and neither was wholly satisfied with the compromises contained in the Charter. At the request of John, Pope Innocent III annulled it. But the genie of liberty was out of the bottle and the Charter was amended and reaffirmed through the next few yeas and, in 1225, took the final form that makes it a foundational document in the English system of government and in every nation whose legal system owes something to English law.
Magna Carta did not create trial by jury, but it did enshrine it as a right, as well as the concept of due process.
"No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land."
Even though England, to this day, has a State Church, Magna Carta laid down the law that even the king must respect certain ancient liberties of the Church. In America this became the religious establishment and free exercise clauses of the Constitution.
"The English Church shall be free, and that men in our kingdom shall have and keep all these liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably in their fullness and entirety for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all things and all places for ever."
President Ronald Reagan summed it up well in his April 16, 1986, Law Day Proclamation --
"The foundations of freedom upon which our Nation was built included the Magna Carta of 1215, English common law, the Mayflower Compact, the Act of Parliament abolishing the Court of the Star Chamber, and numerous colonial charters."