By David Frum
In the winter of 1858, Abraham Lincoln answered an admirer seeking advice on the study of law. Where should a beginner start? Lincoln replied by citing a basic library of works by four authors. Two were American; two were English. Lincoln did not assert an “Anglo-American legal tradition.” He took it for granted, as has every American lawyer and judge before and since.
Such basic concepts as “torts” and “felonies” are English—other legal systems are organized quite differently. The conception of the judge as a disengaged regulator of a trial, rather than an active participant in it, is English too. Not only sheriffs, but also bailiffs and grand juries originated in England. U.S. constitutional law is derived from Great Britain: The “cruel and unusual punishments” clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is reproduced verbatim from England’s 1689 Bill of Rights.
As a reader of The Atlantic, you surely already know all this. I would fear that I’m wasting your time by repeating these basics of American history—if we had not just emerged from a 36-hour social-media rage-spasm against Attorney General Jeff Sessions for merely referencing these incontrovertible and familiar facts. “The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement,” Sessions said in a speech.
“Do you know anyone who says ‘Anglo-American heritage’ in a sentence?” Senator Brian Schatz tweeted in response. “What could possibly be the purpose of saying that other than to pit Americans against each other? For the chief law enforcement officer to use a dog whistle like that is appalling.” That storm has subsided, as social-media storms so often do. I sense that some of the participants now feel a little sheepish about the whole thing. But maybe it’s worth talking about it a little longer, because there are …read more
Via:: The Atlantic