Law Day and other activities honor Magna Carta, the document that set forth basic legal rights
Magna Carta has become a universal symbol of due process, the rule of law and restraint on powers of the state. It outlines basic rights with the principle that no one is above the law, including the king. The Great Charter has been instrumental in the development of some of our key legal values, including habeas corpus, trial by a jury of one’s peers, the right to a speedy and fair trial, and protection against excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishment.
Throughout the centuries, Magna Carta has inspired other great documents of freedom, including the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
For these reasons, the American Bar Association has adopted for Law Day 2015 the theme “Magna Carta: Symbol of Freedom Under Law.”
When President Dwight Eisenhower established Law Day in 1958, he wrote that “the principle of guaranteed fundamental rights of individuals under the law is the heart and sinew of our nation.” Magna Carta was the genesis of those rights of individuals under the law.
Eisenhower also specifically called on the legal profession to promote and participate in Law Day activities. He wrote that “a day of national dedication to the principle of government under laws would afford us an opportunity better to understand and appreciate the manifold virtues of such a government and to focus the attention of the world upon them.”
The ABA heeds the call that Eisenhower issued 57 years ago. Our Division for Public Education and our volunteer leadership have developed a wealth of planning and discussion guides that will help lawyers, teachers and other community leaders host Magna Carta-related Law Day activities.
In addition to Law Day, the ABA has planned many other ventures to celebrate Magna Carta. A traveling exhibit, Magna Carta: Enduring Legacy 1215-2015, is touring U.S. law schools, courthouses, libraries and other venues throughout the year. We are sponsoring essay and video contests and assisting the Annenberg Foundation with an educational video featuring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer.
The U.K. Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee has given the ABA a grant to develop Icon of Liberty Under Law, a multimedia website focusing on public representations of Magna Carta throughout the world. The ABA is grateful to those who plan, produce and partake in Law Day activities.
The ABA’s Magna Carta celebration will culminate June 11-15 at historic sites in London and Runnymede. Pre-eminent speakers will present continuing legal education programs and lead commemorative events, focusing on the principles and influence of the Great Charter. A rededication of the ABA’s memorial at Runnymede, erected in 1957, will occur on June 15, where we anticipate having some very special guests in attendance.
Magna Carta has transcended its original time and place and has become an enduring worldwide symbol of liberty and the rule of law. Raising awareness of it and, more important, the principles it promotes, is of critical consequence.
As we celebrate Law Day on May 1 and throughout the month, let us commemorate this Great Charter of liberty and rededicate ourselves to advancing the rule of law at home and abroad. That is our calling. That is our duty.
• Find info about Law Day programs nationwide at lawday.org.
• Learn more about Magna Carta-related activities at ambar.org/magnacarta.
• Follow President Hubbard on Twitter @WilliamCHubbard.
This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “A Milestone for Magna Carta: Law Day and other activities honor the document that set forth basic legal rights.”
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