From Doomsmen to Due Process (and Back)
Our entire legal system is based on an obvious, yet vital concept: that in order to obey or contest a law, people first need to know what is the law. The right of citizens to know the laws that are being applied to them is the bedrock of our 5th Amendment Right to Due Process. Without Due Process, without the right to know what is the law, it is impossible to exercise virtually any of our Constitutional rights.
The American legal system has as its foundation English Common Law. How we evolved from a system of unwritten edicts to a written body of laws began in the 12th century under the English King Henry I. During his reign, the first set of ancient laws was published. The books of "English Laws" in 1115 were followed by a book called "Laws of Henry I" several years later. Part of these ancient laws that were put in written form were the Assises. Assises were bureaucratic regulations meant to be used by the King's officials, but as these officials used the powers they derived from the Assises to regulate the lives or ordinary citizens, it was important that Assises, too, were public knowledge.
The above laws codified a number of things, but court proceedings were still in the hands of a select few called Doomsmen. The Doomsmen were the only people in England who knew what constituted an actionable offense, or whether a citizen could get help in a legal matter, in a court of law. The Doomsmen were the law, and only they would know whether something was legal or illegal.
The days of the Doomsmen ended in the 12th century with the establishment of the Writ procedure. Writs spelled out what it took to start a legal proceeding. These Writs (Debt, Trespass, etc.) were compiled into what became Common Law. In 1215, the document that enshrined all of the laws compiled under Henry I and later kings was signed: the Magna Carta. The American legal system and our entire Constitution is based on these legal traditions.
For close to eight centuries, the idea of Secret Law has been anathema to our legal structure and our way of life as Americans. Unfortunately, the 21st century has seen our nation infested with modern day Doomsmen, officials who keep the knowledge of laws unto themselves and then apply those laws to millions of Americans every day.
We are losing our ancient right to Due Process to the Doomsmen of Homeland Security, who refuse to show us the law on ID at airports. Without Due Process, we are at their mercy, and freedom withers and dies.