801 years ago today in a peaceful meadow in England occurred the first act of the American Revolution. There was no America at the time, but in the issuing of Magna Carta we can trace the beginnings of the great experiment that became America. The monarch of England became bound by the rule of law, and as the Texan Congressman and jurist Hatton Sumners put it, “There is a straight road which runs from Runnymede to Philadelphia.”
Englishmen continued to assert their rights throughout the Middle Ages, and by the time the first colonists planted themselves in Virginia and Massachusetts, Magna Carta was part of their birthright. Its great elucidator, Sir Edward Coke, helped draft the Virginia Charter of 1606. It is clearly visible in the Massachusetts Body of Liberties from 1641. William Penn printed it here in 1687. Colony after colony incorporated its terms into their governing laws. When George III started to behave as had King John, our cry of “no taxation without representation” can be traced to Article 12 of Magna Carta, which forbade taxation “except by common counsel of our realm.” The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution reflect the rights to justice asserted all those years ago.
If anything, America is today’s true home of that Great Charter. Supreme Court decisions have cited Magna Carta over 100 times. Yet today, in the realm of this Administration’s approach to administrative law, we see the principles our ancestors fought and died for once again ignored. Cases brought by regulatory agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency can drag out for years, until the property owners are bankrupt or dead. Magna Carta says “To no man shall I delay justice.” We need the principles of Magna Carta today just as those Englishmen did 801 years ago.