Law Day 2015: The Legal Profession Honors Magna Carta

The legal profession in the United States observes May 1 as national Law Day. For the theme this year, the American Bar Association (ABA) has chosen “Magna Carta: Icon of Liberty.” The choice no doubt reflects the fact that 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

Magna Carta is short for Magna Carta Libertatum, which is Latin for “Great Charter of Liberties.” Widely recognized as the “Symbol of Freedom Under Law,” Magna Carta has come to embody the basic premises upon which our legal system was founded.

As the legal profession celebrates Law Day, five facts about this timeless document are worth noting:

1. It was written by a group of rebellious English barons.

Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. On June 15, 1215, in the English meadow of Runnymede, the barons confronted King John, who consented to their demands to affix his seal to their Magna Carta and avert civil war. Three months later, Pope Innocent III nullified the agreement, and England plunged into war. Although Magna Carta failed to resolve the conflict between King John and his barons, the document was revised and reissued several times after King John’s death.

2. Two principles, in particular, still resonate today.

The first principle is: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised [relieved of real property he lawfully owns], outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (“no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”) is a direct descendant of this Magna Carta “law of the land” guarantee.

The second principle is: "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." To this day, the U.S. legal system operates under the belief that “no one, no matter how powerful, is above the law.”

3. If you had a copy, it would be worth $21.3 million.

The only surviving 1297 copy of Magna Carta in private hands was sold to American David Rubenstein at auction in 2007. The copy eventually became part of a permanent exhibit at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C.

4. It even has its own stamp.

In 1965, the U.S. Postal Service issued stamps in honor of the 750th anniversary of Magna Carta.

5. It’s a true global sensation.

To this day, quotes from Magna Carta can be found on monuments and memorials, in building inscriptions and literature, across the globe. Additionally, Magna Carta has been a source of inspiration to statesmen, diplomats and dissidents, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

Without Magna Carta, the U.S. legal profession as we know it simply wouldn't exist. So as we in the legal profession celebrate Law Day today, don’t forget to raise a toast to this venerated document.  

How are you marking Law Day 2015? Share your ideas in the comments. 

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