In the year 1215, one of the greatest legal documents ever written came to be known as the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta, (Latin for "Great Charter", literally "Great Paper"), also called Magna Carta Libertatum ("Great Charter of Freedoms"), is an English charter originally issued in 1215. Magna Carta was the most significant early influence on the extensive historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law today. Magna Carta influenced many common law and other documents, such as the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and it is considered one of the most important legal documents in the history of democracy.
Magna Carta was originally written because of disagreements between Pope Innocent III, King John and the English barons about the rights of the King. Magna Carta required the king to renounce certain rights, respect certain legal procedures and accept that his will could be bound by the law.
Any of the attorneys who read this blog and remember appearing for a jury trial before the Honorable Richard Yale Feder remember the time he spent with the venire going through the history lessons of the 13th century. I remember appearing in his chambers with opposing counsel and being told that I would be wearing the traditional garb of the barrister when presenting my case to the jury. I donned the robe, (he did not require us to wear the horsehair wigs) and we walked into the courtroom together and listened intently as Judge Feder explained the origins of the jury process as they related to the Magna Carta.
"No free man shall be captured, and or imprisoned, or disseised of his freehold, and or of his liberties, or of his free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against him by force or proceed against him by arms, but by the lawful judgment of his peers, and or by the law of the land."
The other most enduring legacy of the Magna Carta is considered the right of Habeas Corpus. This right arises from what we now call Clauses 36, 38, 39, and 40 of the 1215 Magna Carta.
Why should we be discussing the document today in the year 2007?
This week, Sotheby's, the auction house, announced that it plans to auction off the 1297 copy owned by the Ross Perot Foundation. It plans to auction it in New York in mid-December and estimates that the document will sell for $20 million to $30 million. It is the only copy in the United States and the only copy in private hands. Sotheby's says 16 others are owned by the British or Australian governments or by ecclesiastical or educational institutions in England.
Until last week, this copy was on display in the National Archives in Washington, steps from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But it was only on loan from the foundation. Ross Perot bought it in 1984 for $1.5 million.
Why should we be discussing the Magna Carta? Because of Salih Uyar and Mosa Zi Zemmori. Uyar of Turkey and Zemmori of Belgium, are two of the more than 550 enemy combatants housed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They are there, in part, because they were captured wearing a Casio F91W digital watch. (This model of watch is notable because United States intelligence officials have identified it as the watch that terrorists use when constructing time bombs). These detainees have no rights. They have no attorneys, they have been granted no right to a public trial and many don't even know what their charges or and why they are there. They have no habeas corpus rights.
Why should we be discussing the Magna Carta? On Monday, the "First Monday of October", the United States Supreme Court will again come to order. The "Roberts" court is complete and we all know where it stands. In an era of red states and blue states, an era of disputed elections in 2000 (Florida) and 2004 (Ohio), and in an era of too many 5-4 decisions, the court will again meet to decide the most important legal issues of our time.
This past term, the court's first full one with Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the percentage of 5-to-4 decisions in which the four liberals (John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and David H. Souter) were together in dissent rose to 80 percent, up from 55 percent in the 2004 term.
No less than 12 of the previous 14 appointments to the court come from Republican presidents. Burger, Blackmun, Powell, Rehnquist, and O'Connor (all retired) and Stevens, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito were all appointed by Republicans. (Only Ginsburg and Breyer were appointed by a Democrat; Bill Clinton).
Next year, in 2008, we will again elect a new president. And, from this lawyer's perspective, that decision may be one of the most important ones we ever make. Stevens is 87 years old, Ginsburg 74, Breyer 69 and Souter a mere 68 years young. In the next eight years, it is possible that all four could be gone. A new Republican president surely means the further evisceration of the 4th, 5th and 6th amendments. Will the court still even recognize Habeas Corpus or the right to a Trial by Jury? There are many other important issues of our time that will come before the new Roberts' court.
Maybe it is time, this First Monday of October, to remember back to 1297 and the purpose behind the Magna Carta. We must stand strong and continue to demand that our leaders respect the rights of its citizens, that they respect certain legal procedures and they understand that their decisions are still bound by the law.
I am proud to be a lawyer and one of Liberty's Last Champions. I hope you all remember why you became a lawyer!!!
As Rumpole likes to say, "see you in court". I'll be the one carrying the 800 year old parchment and, unlike Perot's copy, mine won't be "For Sale".
CAPTAIN OUT .............................