Trial by jury.
These rights and others afforded to every American would not have been possible except for a momentous event that happened exactly 800 years ago.
In June 1215, democracy's most revered historical document, Magna Carta, was signed by King John of England. The essential message of that "Great Charter" was that no one, not even the king, was above the law, implying basic rights and freedoms that became the cornerstone of American law. In fact, when crafting the Constitution, the founding fathers looked to Magna Carta as their inspiration and the underpinning of the primacy of the rule of law.
"Certain core principles that are part of the American jurisprudential DNA can be traced back to Magna Carta, such as due process," said Steven M. Richman, incoming president of the New Jersey State Bar Foundation. "But perhaps more importantly, Magna Carta stands for more than just the sum of its parts. It stands for the principle of rule of law, and it is that as much as anything else that we celebrate 800 years after the fateful encounter on June 15, 1215, at Runnymede."
The American Bar Association has planned an extensive public education and philanthropic campaign in celebration of the enduring legacy of that milestone. In furtherance of the ABA's efforts, New Jersey's legal organizations, including the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, are celebrating 800 years of Magna Carta with a variety of programs geared to attorneys and the general public:
The theme of the Law Day 2015 YouTube Video Contest for middle and high school students, sponsored by the New Jersey State Bar Association's (NJSBA) Young Lawyers Division, was "The 800th Anniversary of the Sealing of the Magna Carta."
The Sussex County Bar Association's celebration of Law Day, April 30, centered on Magna Carta as the springboard to the rule of law. Its Law Day observance, which also noted the excellent showing by Kittatinny Regional High School in the Foundation's recent High School Mock Trial Competition, was cosponsored by the Foundation.
New Jersey Lawyer magazine, a publication of NJSBA, is dedicating its entire June issue to the enduring legacy of Magna Carta.
Articles on Magna Carta were included in spring issues of The Legal Eagle and Respect, Foundation publications geared to middle school and high school students in New Jersey. The Legal Eagle piece traces how Magna Carta shaped American law, while the Respect story shows how it influenced civil, human and equal rights.
The Foundation's Law-Related Education Conference on May 1 offered educators a workshop on how the ancient document is surprisingly relevant to 21st century issues. Judge C. Judson Hamlin and attorney Risa Chalfin were the co-presenters.
In cooperation with the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education, the Foundation is sponsoring a program at the Annual Meeting in Atlantic City on May 15 entitled "The Great Charter of Liberties: How Magna Carta Affects the New Jersey Lawyer." This seminar explores the history of the English rebellion that led to the creation of the Magna Carta, a document that sought to limit the power of the monarchy and convey rights and protections to the citizenry. That historical document will be related to our constitution and the work of lawyers in the present day to champion the rights of New Jersey's citizens. Steven Richman serves as moderator and speaker. Panel members are the Hon. Jerome B. Simandle, Chief Judge, US District Court for the District of New York; Paula Franzese, Peter W. Rodino Professor of Law, Seton Hall University School of Law; John B. Wefing, Distinguished Professor of New Jersey Law and History, Seton Hall University School of Law; and State Senator Nicholas P. Scutari, 22nd District.
On July 9, Richman will conduct a seminar for interns on Magna Carta and how it relates to current day due process at the Essex County Prosecutor's Office as part of statewide Court Night educational efforts celebrating the document's anniversary. Other county and specialty bars participating in Magna Carta-related Court Night programs are the Association of Black Women Lawyers, Burlington County Bar Association, Essex County Bar Association, Garden State Bar Association, Hudson County Bar Association, Hunterdon County Bar Association, Mercer County Bar Association, Passaic County Bar Association and Sussex County Bar Association.
Richman will also lead an adult education program this fall about Magna Carta, and items related to Magna Carta will be on display at the New Jersey Law Center.