Happy Magna Carta Day! Today marks the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta in 1215 at Runnymede. Now that I’m getting the hang of this after a couple of short broadcasts, I invite everyone to join us at 8 past the hour throughout the day for a series of short broadcasts on the Magna Carta and our jury rights today. You can join us at 8 minutes past the hour on Periscope where we are FIJA_AJI or by clicking the link that is tweeted at the beginning of each broadcast on Twitter.

KnowYourRoots-KnowYourRights-LOGOFIJA’s theme this year for our celebration of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta is Know Your Roots, Know Your Rights. Today when we think of jury rights and jury nullification, we often think of things like drug and gun cases, raw milk, and things like that. Historically we tend to look to freedom of speech and religion cases such as that of John Peter Zenger and William Penn. But at its roots, jury rights were codified in the Magna Carta as part of a tax protest. Jury rights are, in fact, intricately tied up with property rights.

King John, the reigning monarch of the time, is widely said to be the worst king in all of English history. He lived what was seen as an indiscretely decadent and immoral lifestyle. He was arrogant and largely unconcerned with diplomacy. During much of his reign, he was entrenched in the business of fighting ill-conceived wars that were draining the royal coffers. As his predecessors had done, he ruled as if he were above the law, and in order to fund his failing misadventures in violence, he simply taxed the barons under his rule excessively and arbitrarily to the point that he was being described as an extortionist. He created new taxes and expanded existing ones. In addition, he piled on other forms of taxes such as fines and fees for privileges, making money in any way he could.

Sick of the abuse and waste of their wealth, a number of barons gathered their private armies together to persuade the wayward king to agree to some boundaries. Upon his return from a failed war in France, they met him in the meadow at Runnymede, where he had the choice to agree to a peace treaty, now known at the Magna Carta, or wind up in a war at home. Not intending to honor the agreement, King John affixed his seal to the document. 800 years later, parts of it still remain law in England.

While the Magna Carta was designed to protect mainly a select few—the wealthy barons with their own private armies who forced King John to agree to it—and, in some ways, further solidified oppression of others who were not its beneficiaries. We look to it not just for what it was, but for what it has become. It expressed ideas that have not only held up over the last 800 years, but were so good that they have been claimed by more and more oppressed people around the world as their right as well.

Throughout the day, we will be tracing the history of the Magna Carta through English history and then across the pond to colonial and then revolutionary America to track from where our jury rights today originate. Come check us out for a different topic every hour!.