nOne of the greatest moments in the development of
occurred in 1215, when a reluctant King John placed his seal on the Magna Carta.
nEssentially, Magna Carta was a series of promises that
the King would follow the
dictates of the law in dealing with his subjects and vassals.
nMagna Carta established the principle that government is
subject to the rule of law, which
is the essential idea upon which the United States Constitution is based. Magna Carta is also the
source of another bedrock
principle in our legal system today—the idea of due process of law. Magna Carta stipulated that, “No free
man shall be taken or
imprisoned or disseised or outlawed or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go or send against him, except by
the lawful judgment of his peers
or by the law of the land.” Later statutes and court decisions would use the term “due process of law”
as synonymous with “the
law of the land.”
nThe American Bill of Rights (1789) uses the term “due
process of law” in protecting
citizens’ rights to life, liberty and property. But the essential idea was expressed nearly six hundred years
earlier in Magna Carta.