ABA Magna Carta Commemoration

The ABA celebrates the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta

Introduction  

The American Bar Association is pleased to join the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth nations in honoring the 800th Anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215. 

The fundamental concepts of liberty that had their beginnings in Magna Carta were transplanted to the American colonies where they were accepted, refined, and embedded in the instruments of government as well as the thinking of the American people. Magna Carta provided the basis for the idea of a higher law, one that could not be altered either by executive mandate or legislative acts. This concept, embraced by the leaders of the American Revolution, is embedded in the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution.  Throughout American history, the rights associated with Magna Carta have been regarded as among the most important guarantees of freedom and fairness.

In anticipation of this milestone event, the American Bar Association created an ABA Magna Carta Anniversary Committee, chaired by Stephen N. Zack, Past President of the American Bar Association.

Under Mr. Zack’s leadership, the ABA Magna Carta Anniversary Committee is developing plans for events within the United States and the United Kingdom, leading up to a delegation of 600-800 U.S. lawyers participating in commemorative meetings and events in London and Runnymede from June 11-14, 2015. 

ABA Meeting in London

In honor of the 800th Anniversary of Magna Carta, on June 11-14, 2015 in London, the ABA will present a series of continuing legal education programs and plenary sessions featuring preeminent speakers. The focus will include the original 1215 version of Magna Carta and its four subsequent versions, as well as the Charter of the Forest that emanated from the 1215 Magna Carta and constrained the powers not only of the King but also of the barons. 

Approximately 600-800 lawyers and their guests are anticipated to attend the meeting. Participants will be able to participate in optional excursions to Runnymede, where Magna Carta was sealed by King John and the ABA has a Memorial to Magna Carta, and to Temple Church, where the barons met to formulate their demands before Runnymede.

Refurbishing of ABA Memorial at Runnymede

The American Bar Association is raising funds to refurbish and repair the ABA Memorial to Magna Carta, which is situated in Runnymede.  The Memorial, a classical Greek structure that sits in an enclosed grassy area on the Runnymede meadow, is the main memorial to Magna Carta at Runnymede and was erected in 1957 on land deeded to the Magna Carta Trust. The construction of the Memorial was funded by donations from individual ABA members.

Traveling Exhibit

From November 6, 2014, through January 19, 2015, the Library of Congress will host one of the four original 1215 exemplifications of Magna Carta and will undertake a major exhibition celebration of the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta.  Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor will present precious medieval manuscripts, printed books, pamphlets and other priceless documents from the collections of the Library of Congress that tell the story of the heritage of Magna Carta.  It will trace the path of Magna Carta’s influence from King John and the Barons at Runnymede Meadow in 1215 through the rise of English political liberty and the American founding to current events in the unfolding story of the rule of law throughout the world.  The Library also will host a substantive symposium, a black tie gala, and other events to highlight the exhibit.

In order to raise awareness about Magna Carta and its enduring legacy, the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress has partnered with the Law Library to develop a high-quality traveling exhibit to complement the Library’s exhibit.  Magna Carta: Enduring Legacy 1215-2015 features spectacular images from the Library’s exhibit along with supporting text printed on freestanding banners that tell the story of Magna Carta and its catalyst role in promoting the rule of law. The exhibit also includes a companion video in which the Law Librarian of Congress and the Law Library’s Rare Book Curator discuss several of the precious documents shown in the exhibit.  The traveling exhibit was curated by the Law Library of Congress with the goal being to make it interesting and accessible to a wide range of people, including judges, lawyers, educators, students, and laypeople.

The exhibit will be launched at the 2014 ABA Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts.  Immediately following the launch, the exhibit will be sent across the country to dozens of law schools, courthouses, public libraries and other venues through 2015 and beyond, ensuring significant exposure and viewership. 

The American Bar Association will hold events in London June 11-14, 2015 in celebration of the anniversary, and plans are underway to display the exhibit at a prominent ABA event.

Magna Carta Law Day Theme in 2015

The American Bar Association has adopted the theme of Magna Carta for its Annual Law Day on May 1, 2015.  The ABA will develop related resources for bar associations, courts, civic groups, and others conducting educational activities for Law Day, including development of a planning guide, a “Dialogue” program featuring a lawyer-in-the-classroom resource guide, posters and promotional products, and lesson plans.

Leading up to Law Day, ABA Sections, state and local bars and other entities are being encouraged to hold substantive programs on Magna Carta themes throughout the United States and abroad.  For example, the Section of International Law will hold a panel on Magna Carta at its fall 2013 meeting in London.

Essay, Speech and Playwriting Competitions

The ABA is reaching out to a number of organizations in the United States that run annual essay or oratorical competitions, including debates and moot courts, to encourage them to select a theme related to Magna Carta or Charter of the Forest for their competitions in 2014 and 2015.  Organizations such as the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) have expressed enthusiasm for having Magna Carta as the theme for their essay competitions. The ABA is reaching out to a number of other organizations. ABA sections and other entities are also being encouraged to include Magna Carta and Charter of the Forest themes in their writing competitions.

The ABA is partnering with the National History Day organization on a special ABA Magna Carta Prize that will be presented in connection with their national essay contest in 2014.  It is possible that the ABA will sponsor this special award in 2015 as well.  A $1,000 ABA prize will be presented to the outstanding entries in each of the junior and senior divisions that incorporate Magna Carta as an important building block in the advancement of the rule of law and of individual rights in the United States against the arbitrary exercise of governmental power.

ABA Sections and other ABA entities are being encouraged to include Magna Carta and Charter of the Forest themes in their writing competitions.   The ABA’s Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division is undertaking a Magna Carta video contest for high school students titled “What’s So Great about the Great Charter.”   Submissions will be accepted from October 1, 2014 through January 15, 2015.  Contestants will be asked to submit videos on Magna Carta, which will feature a play with at least two acts:  1) a historic re-enactment portion and 2) a portion on the impact of Magna Carta on present day law and society.  A Supreme Court Justice has agreed to host the winning team at the Supreme Court during ABA Day in Washington next April.

Law Library of Congress’ Magna Carta Program Series

The ABA is co-sponsoring the Magna Carta speaker series being presented by the Law Library of Congress:  

August 20, 2014: “Magna Carta and Primary Source Documents.”  Speakers: Nathan Dorn, Law Library of Congress Rare Book Curator; Stephen Wesson, educational resources specialist; and Holly Krueger, head of the Library’s Paper Conservation Section.

September 16 (Constitution Day): The Influence of Magna Carta on the U.S. Constitution.  Speaker: Professor Akhil Amar, Yale Law School

January 15, 2015: The Status of Women in 1215.  Speaker: Professor Ruth Karras, University of Minnesota

(Additional programs being planned)

Commemorative Books

The ABA has partnered with Third Millennium Information (TMI), a British-based publisher, to produce a special ABA Limited Edition commemorative coffee table-style book on Magna Carta in honor of the 800th anniversary of the sealing of this historic document.  The book, titled Magna Carta: The Foundation of Freedom 1215-2015, is available to ABA members, and royalties from book sales will go to the Magna Carta Trust.  To place an order, go to http://bookstore.tmiltd.com/products/magna-carta-aba.
 
The American Bar Association has also published a substantive book highlighting many of the important contributions Magna Carta has made to rule of law and constitutionalism, both in the United States and in other legal systems.  The book, titled Magna Carta and the Rule of Law, takes a fresh look at Magna Carta and its impacts on various issues and the rule of law in light of contemporary legal concerns.  To place an order, go to https://apps.americanbar.org/abastore/index.cfm?fm=Product.AddToCart&pid=5210286.

ABA Magna Carta Anniversary Committee

Chair

Stephen N. Zack

Members

Laurel G. Bellows
Michael W. Drumke 
William C. Hubbard
Carolyn B. Lamm
Daniel B. Magraw, Jr:
Alice E. Richmond
Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III
Palmer Gene Vance II

London Liason

James Durant

Staff Liaison

Katy Englehart

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