Your ABA

ABA initiatives raise public awareness about the Magna Carta's significance

  • Print

The ABA's Magna Carta display

The ABA’s Magna Carta traveling exhibition has been making stops nationwide since August. Photo by Kathy Anderson.

The ABA is using the impending 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta to raise awareness of why a document that was used to settle some disputes between England's King John and his barons in 1215 still matters eight centuries later. It's a teaching opportunity about democratic principles if there ever was one.

The yearlong commemoration of the Magna Carta's anniversary will culminate in June with four days of educational programs, ceremonies and social events in London, followed by a rededication of the ABA's monument in the meadow at Runnymede alongside the River Thames where King John placed his seal on the document on June 15, 1215. Queen Elizabeth II is expected to be among the dignitaries who will speak at the ceremony.

But the ABA launched its educational efforts about the Magna Carta in earnest at the 2014 annual meeting in August. It has long been recognized by legal scholars, at least, as one of the founding documents of modern democracy and constitutional government.

In a speech to the ABA's House of Delegates, U.S. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. gave a succinct, 21-minute history lesson on the importance of the Magna Carta. Roberts said the individuals who met at Runnymede "were pursuing their own interests rather than an heroic cause beyond themselves. But when we talk about Magna Carta today, we are not celebrating antiquated relics of a time long past. Instead we are referring to a small collection of provisions that express kernels of transcendent significance."

The ABA also unveiled a traveling exhibition, titled Magna Carta: Enduring Legacy 1215-2015, which was developed and curated by the Law Library of Congress in conjunction with the ABA Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress. Since August, the exhibit, which tells the document's story using video, words and images, has been making stops at law schools, courthouses, bar centers, libraries and other venues.

Meanwhile, the Library of Congress opened its exhibit, Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor, on Nov. 6. The centerpiece of the exhibit is one of four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta, which has been in the possession of Lincoln Cathedral since it was sealed in 1215. The document will be on display until the exhibit closes Jan. 19.

A line to see the exhibit

Museumgoers gather to look at one of four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta. Photo by Kathy Anderson.


The ABA's educational efforts about the Magna Carta also are reaching into schools around the United States. The Magna Carta Video Competition, for instance, is open to students who attend public or private high schools or are being home-schooled. Teams of two to six students may submit a video of up to 15 minutes on the theme "Magna Carta: What's So Great about the 'Great Charter'?" The entry deadline is Jan. 15. The winning team will receive a three-day trip to Washington, D.C., in April.

The competition is sponsored by the ABA and its Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division, with the Center for Teaching the Rule of Law in Salem, Virginia. Co-sponsors are the ABA Young Lawyers and Law Student divisions and the Division for Public Education.

Law Day events sponsored by the ABA and other bar associations on May 1 will be based on the theme "Magna Carta: Symbol of Freedom Under Law." Every year, Law Day features extensive programs in the schools to help students gain a better understanding of democracy and the rule of law.

President William Hubbard

Photo of ABA President William Hubbard by Kathy Anderson.

"Magna Carta has taken its place as one of the most enduring symbols of freedom under the law," says ABA President William C. Hubbard in his Law Day message posted on the event's website. "It is the very embodiment of the principle that no one, no person—no matter how powerful—is above the law. In short, it symbolizes our rule of law tradition," says Hubbard, a partner at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough in Columbia, South Carolina.

"As we celebrate Law Day on May 1, 2015, let us commemorate this great charter of liberties and rededicate ourselves to advancing the rule of law at home and abroad."

Related info:

Read the rules for the ABA Magna Carta Video Competition.

This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: "Learning Opportunity: ABA initiatives seek to raise public awareness about the Magna Carta's significance."
Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.