The Magna Carta Revisited

Columbia Law School Professor Philip Hamburger Discusses the Modern-Day Relevance of the Historic Document

New York, February 24, 2015—The Magna Carta, a peace treaty signed in 1215 by England’s King John and the barons he was battling for control of the country, has never been more relevant, Columbia Law School Professor Philip Hamburger told students at a roundtable discussion on Feb. 18.

The Magna Carta, or the “Great Charter,” is one of the earliest of Anglo-American constitutional documents. Of particular significance is the charter’s 39th Clause, which codified the idea that all free men have a right to a trial by their peers or the law of the land—a predecessor of the right to a jury and the due process of law.
The growth of the administrative state in the U.S. has eroded that right, Hamburger said at the discussion and argues in his latest book, Is Administrative Law Unlawful? (Chicago 2014), which contends that government agencies in the U.S. revive the sort of absolute power the Constitution and courts were designed to prevent.
“Most of our contact with the law does not happen in the courts,” Hamburger said at the discussion, the first installment of the Federalist Society’s Faculty Engagement Series. “Instead of due process in a court of law, we get a pale administrative substitute, which is justified as ‘all the process that’s due.’”
Hamburger, the Maurice and Hilda Friedman Professor of Law and a scholar of constitutional law and its history, spoke to students broadly about English society at the time of the Magna Carta’s signing, calling the country a place of “earls and churls.” The phrase refers to the noblemen who controlled land bestowed upon them by the king and the lowest class of free men in English society at the time.
The Magna Carta was re-issued many times in the Middle Ages as a guarantee of rights, usually in exchange for taxes
Hamburger’s talk comes as the Magna Carta is commemorated for its 800th anniversary.