Don't you just love it when Law Day themes click?! Each year, the American Bar Association establishes a theme for Law Day, which is observed on May 1. This year's theme, which turned our attention to the 50th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona, followed the 2015 Law theme celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. So, what do a medieval statute and a Warren Court decision separated by 751 years have in common? Simple - Due process.
The connection is extensively examined in a digital exhibit from the Law Library of Congress' titled Magna Carta: Muse & Mentor - Due Process of Law. Prior to June 15, 1215, Englishmen (and everyone else for that matter) had little protection from kings and noblemen hauling them away without cause or trial. When King John placed his seal on Magna Carta, chapter 39 of the document provided that:
No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.
Subsequent English statutes interpreted the phrase "the law of the land" to include procedural safeguards that protect individual rights. One such statute enacted in 1354 added the phrase "due process of law" to the English legal vernacular to describe this collection of procedural rights. The phrase continued in use and found its way into the U.S. Constitution via the Fifth Amendment. By the time Miranda v. Arizona was decided in 1966, the privilege against self-incrimination was a well-established tenet of American jurisprudence and the Court prohibited use of such statements without a showing of the use of procedural safeguards like the warnings that became known as Miranda Warnings.
For more on the Due Process connection from Magna Carta to Miranda v. Arizona, visit the Law Library of Congress digital exhibit Magna Carta: Muse & Mentor. You can also visit the Harris County Law Library's Law Day digital exhibits Magna Carta and Miranda: More than words to discover more about these landmark legal resources. Be sure to also visit the Law Library's lobby to view our 1763 copy of Magna Carta on display during the month of June.