Thursday, March 5, 2015

HCBA President's Message: Magna Carta Madness

By Benjamin H. Hill IV

As a college sports fan, one of my favorite traditions is the annual NCAA college basketball tournament. Known as “March Madness,” this short yet exciting season is once again upon us.  As such, it is hard for anyone to avoid discussions involving brackets, chalk, top seeds, Cinderella teams, buzzer beaters, and other roundball nomenclature. Inevitably, one will hear hoops aficionados ― often coaches or sportscasters ― use the phrase “survive and advance” in reference to how teams approach each round and plan for tournament success.

While the tourney has been played for nearly 80 years, a far more significant milestone is also upon us. This year marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. Perhaps not as fun to discuss as a bracket-buster game, Magna Carta’s significance should not be overlooked ― especially by us lawyers. Indeed, Magna Carta is still widely considered to be one of the greatest political and legal sources of support for any modern-day, free society. Put differently, the legal thoughts and principles in Magna Carta have arguably “survived and advanced” over the years as well as any set forth in a single document.

As there is not enough space here for a deep dive into Magna Carta’s history, one will generally recall that Magna Carta was the “Great Charter” (did not need six years of Latin for that), which King John was compelled to sign at Runnymede in 1215 to assure local barons certain temporary property rights and protections. Although Magna Carta was modified and reaffirmed a few times over the next couple of centuries, it remained largely between the king and the barons. However, in the 17th century, Sir Edward Coke, an English barrister and judge, reinterpreted Magna Carta and used it to defend against certain oppressive tactics by the monarchy. This interpretation led to a more widespread application of Magna Carta such that it extended rights and freedoms to all English people.

When these English citizens and their children relocated and established colonies in America, the principles of Magna Carta survived and advanced to this land. Amid this country’s development and growth over the ensuing decades, Magna Carta’s influence not only survived but eventually advanced to all Americans. These and other principles traceable to Magna Carta are now embedded in the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and, obviously, much of our case law.

Bar associations, historical societies, and countless other organizations around the globe are celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. In fact, the American Bar Association is sponsoring a host of commemorative activities. If you are interested in learning more about them, please visit the ABA’s website at, entering “Magna Carta” as a search term. If the history buff in you wants to learn more about the origins, development, and impact of Magna Carta, I recommend that you visit

The HCBA is joining in the celebration of Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary as our theme for this year’s Law Week (March 16-20) is “Magana Carta: Symbol of Freedom Under Law.”  I thank our Law Week Committee ― led by Co-Chairs Amy Nath, Maja Lacevic, and Alex Haddad ― which has worked so hard to assure another fabulous week this year.

Finally, as “respect for the law” is one of the principles behind our HCBA mission themed “Operation Respect and Service,” let us all recognize and be thankful for the enduring effects that Magna Carta continues to have on our freedoms, society, and ways of life. Surviving and advancing for 800 years now, perhaps the least we could do is to indulge in a little “Magna Carta Madness.