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Profile: Magna Carta

Magna Carta was a participant or observer in the following events:

Thom Hartmann.Thom Hartmann. [Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]Author and talk show host Thom Hartmann issues a call for the repeal of the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006). He frames his argument with a quote from the revered British Conservative Prime Minister, Winston Churchill: “The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious, and the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist.” The MCA is “the most conspicuous part of a series of laws which have fundamentally changed the nature of this nation, moving us from a democratic republic to a state under the rule of a ‘unitary’ president,” Hartmann writes. The MCA is an “attack on eight centuries of English law,” the foundation of US jurisprudence that goes back to 1215 and the Magna Carta. While the MCA’s supporters in and out of the administration give reassurances that the law only applies to non-citizens, Hartmann notes that two US citizens, Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi, have already been stripped of their habeas corpus rights. Habeas corpus, Hartmann writes, is featured prominently in Article I of the US Constitution. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was flat wrong in saying that the Constitution provided “no express grant of habeas” (see January 17, 2007), Hartmann writes. “Our Constitution does not grant us rights, because ‘We’ already hold all rights. Instead, it defines the boundaries of our government, and identifies what privileges ‘We the People’ will grant to that government.” The authors of the Constitution “must be turning in their graves,” Hartmann writes, quoting the “most conservative” of those authors, Alexander Hamilton: “The establishment of the writ of habeas corpus… are perhaps greater securities to liberty and republicanism than any it [the Constitution] contains.… [T]he practice of arbitrary imprisonments have been, in all ages, the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny.” Hamilton’s colleague Thomas Jefferson said that laws such as habeas corpus make the US government “the strongest government on earth.” Now, Hartmann writes, the strength of that government is imperiled. [CommonDreams (.org), 2/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, Alberto R. Gonzales, Alexander Hamilton, Jose Padilla, Magna Carta, Military Commissions Act, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Hartmann

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

An illuminated letter from the Magna Carta.An illuminated letter from the Magna Carta. [Source: University of Maine at Farmington]Three freshman New Hampshire Republican House members submit a bill that would require all new legislation proposed in the New Hampshire Congress to source itself in the Magna Carta, the English declaration of rights written in 1215. Bob Kingsbury (R-Laconia), Tim Twombly (R-Nashua), and Lucien Vita (R-Middleton) write a bill that consists of the following single line: “All members of the general court [the New Hampshire legislature] proposing bills and resolutions addressing individual rights or liberties shall include a direct quote from the Magna Carta which sets forth the article from which the individual right or liberty is derived.” Most legal authorities recognize that the Magna Carta, compiled of 63 demands laid down by feudal barons to England’s King John, is one of the sources of inspiration for the US Constitution, but consider it quite outdated for modern use. Some of the Magna Carta’s demands are: “No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she wishes to remain without a husband”; “We shall straightway return the son of Llewelin and all the Welsh hostages.… We shall act towards Alexander King of the Scots regarding the restoration of his sisters”; and, “If anyone who has borrowed a sum of money from Jews dies before the debt has been repaid, his heir shall pay no interest on the debt for so long as he remains under age.” Kingsbury says he is primarily thinking of bills concerning the judicial system, and cites the Magna Carta’s clause that states that “no freeman” shall be imprisoned or harmed “save by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.” New Hampshire Democratic Party spokesman Ray Buckley says he is “mostly speechless,” and adds: “I appreciate all the hard work the Republican legislators are putting into the effort to make them look like extremists. Saves us the trouble.” Kingsbury tries to downplay the importance of the legislation, saying its primary intent is to honor the Magna Carta’s upcoming 800-year anniversary in 2015. Vita admits that he needs to “bone up” on the content of the charter, but adds, “it’s a document that still functions.” He says the Magna Carta bill is similar to bills in the US Congress requiring all legislation to cite constitutional authority. “This is a little bit older than the Constitution, but the same thought is there,” Vita says. Kingsbury says that concerns of legal problems deriving from any such requirement are “interesting,” adding, “Everything has an analog, everything has an origin, and this is part of the origin of what we have in our country.” Twombly says “no way in heck” was his intention in backing the bill to prevent progressive civil rights legislation from being introduced. “That’s not my thought whatsoever,” he says, acknowledging that the Magna Carta does not address issues like gay rights and abortion. “Our society has changed a lot since then. There are issues that need to be resolved that weren’t a problem years ago.” Kingsbury says even if the law passes, no punitive measures would entail if legislation did not actually cite the Magna Carta. “It’s a recommendation that would be nice to be followed,” he says. [Concord Monitor, 12/24/2011] Think Progress reporter Marie Diamond writes of the bill: “Conservatives have long prided themselves on being constitutional ‘purists’ who want to strip government down to the basic form they say was laid out in the country’s founding document. But requiring textual justification from another country’s founding document, which has no legal history or authority in the US, is a curious extension of that principle.” [Think Progress, 1/4/2012]

Entity Tags: Marie Diamond, Bob Kingsbury, Lucien Vita, Ray Buckley, Magna Carta, Tim Twombly

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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