Renee Lettow Lerner
Americans cherished Magna Carta most because of its association with jury trial. Juries had proved useful to Americans in their conflict with Britain. Colonial American juries had nullified the law of seditious libel, customs taxes, and debts to British merchants. It was no wonder Americans held the jury in high esteem, at least until they had to run their own governments. Americans filled their constitutions, both federal and state, with rights to jury trial. Several American states even included translations of provisions from Magna Carta in their constitutions, enshrining the “judgment of his peers.” Once Americans had achieved independence and formed the new republics, judges faced the task of interpreting these thirteenth-century provisions as eighteenth- and nineteenth-century law. American judges quoted Blackstone and historical treatises. Through the nineteenth century, however, American enthusiasm for juries waned. The much-repeated phrases from Magna Carta became a flimsy screen, masking the steady decline of jury power.