Law of the land
The phrase law of the land is a legal term, equivalent to the Latin lex terrae (or legem terrae in the accusative case
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

). It refers to all of the law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

s in force within a country or region, including both statute law and common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...


Use in the Magna Carta

In the year 1297, this term was used in the Magna Carta
Magna Carta
Magna Carta is an English charter, originally issued in the year 1215 and reissued later in the 13th century in modified versions, which included the most direct challenges to the monarch's authority to date. The charter first passed into law in 1225...

. Perhaps the most famous clause of Magna Carta states:

No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land.

This is sometimes called the "law of the land clause".

Emulation of the Magna Carta

Half a millennium later, following the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

, legislators looked to Magna Carta for inspiration, and emulated some of Magna Carta's language. Versions of it can be found in the Virginia Constitution of 1776, the North Carolina Constitution
North Carolina Constitution
The Constitution of the State of North Carolina governs the structure and function of the state government of North Carolina, United States; it is the highest legal document for the state and subjugates North Carolina law...

 of 1776, the Delaware Constitution of 1776, the Maryland Constitution
Maryland Constitution
The current Constitution of the State of Maryland, which was ratified by the people of the state on September 18, 1867, forms the basic law for the U.S. state of Maryland. It replaced the short-lived Maryland Constitution of 1864 and is the fourth constitution under which the state has been...

 of 1776, the New York Constitution of 1777, the South Carolina Constitution
South Carolina Constitution
The Constitution of the State of South Carolina is the governing document of the U.S. state of South Carolina. It describes the structure and function of the state's government. The current constitution took effect on December 4, 1895...

 of 1778, the Massachusetts Constitution
Massachusetts Constitution
The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the fundamental governing document of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one of the 50 individual state governments that make up the United States of America. It was drafted by John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Bowdoin during the...

 of 1780, and the New Hampshire Constitution
New Hampshire Constitution
The Constitution of the State of New Hampshire is the fundamental law of the State of New Hampshire, with which all statute laws must comply. The constitution became effective June 2, 1784, when it replaced the state's constitution of 1776....

 of 1784.

In 1787, the Continental Congress
Continental Congress
The Continental Congress was a convention of delegates called together from the Thirteen Colonies that became the governing body of the United States during the American Revolution....

 adopted the Northwest Ordinance
Northwest Ordinance
The Northwest Ordinance was an act of the Congress of the Confederation of the United States, passed July 13, 1787...

 for governance of areas in the United States outside of the individual states. Congress wrote: "No man shall be deprived of his liberty or property, but by the judgment of his peers, or the law of the land."

Use in the United States Constitution

This term was used in 1787 to write the Supremacy Clause
Supremacy Clause
Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, known as the Supremacy Clause, establishes the U.S. Constitution, U.S. Treaties, and Federal Statutes as "the supreme law of the land." The text decrees these to be the highest form of law in the U.S...

 of the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

. The Supremacy Clause states: "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the land...." The term was not used in the U.S. Constitution to emulate Magna Carta, and instead an equivalent (due process
Due process
Due process is the legal code that the state must venerate all of the legal rights that are owed to a person under the principle. Due process balances the power of the state law of the land and thus protects individual persons from it...

) phraseology was used.

Meaning and interpretation

This term has been the subject of numerous scholarly works and judicial decisions over the years. The Latin term is lex terrae, or legem terrae in the accusative case (i.e. when the term is being used as the object in a sentence).

What it includes

English jurists, writing of legem terrae in reference to the Magna Carta, stated that this term embraces all laws that are in force for the time being within a jurisdiction. For example, Edward Coke
Edward Coke
Sir Edward Coke SL PC was an English barrister, judge and politician considered to be the greatest jurist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. Born into a middle class family, Coke was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge before leaving to study at the Inner Temple, where he was called to the...

, commenting upon Magna Carta, wrote in 1606: "no man be taken or imprisoned but per legem terrae, that is, by the common law, statute law, or custom of England." Likewise, Justice Powys of the King's Bench
King's Bench
The Queen's Bench is the superior court in a number of jurisdictions within some of the Commonwealth realms...

 wrote in 1704: "lex terrae is not confined to the common law, but takes in all the other laws, which are in force in this realm; as the civil and canon law...."

British Chief Justice John Fineux
John Fineux
Sir John Fineux was an English judge and Chief Justice of the King’s Bench.-Early life and career:Fineux was the son of William Fyneux of Swingfield, Kent, his mother's name being Monyngs. The family of Fyneux or Fineux was of great antiquity in Kent...

 stated in 1519 that "the Law of God and the Law of the Land are all one" in the sense that they both protect the public good. British Chief Justice John Vaughan
John Vaughan (judge)
Sir John Vaughan SL , of Trawsgoed, was a British justice.-Life:He was born in Ceredigion, Wales, the eldest of eight children of Edward Vaughan and his wife Letitia Stedman of Strata Florida, and was educated initially at The King's School, Worcester between 1613 and 1618, when he was admitted to...

 further explained in 1677 that whenever the law of the land declares by a legislative act what divine law
Divine law
Divine law is any law that in the opinion of believers, comes directly from the will of God . Like natural law it is independent of the will of man, who cannot change it. However it may be revealed or not, so it may change in human perception in time through new revelation...

 is, then the courts must consider that legislation to be correct.

Equivalence to due process

Lord Coke also equated this term to due process
Due process
Due process is the legal code that the state must venerate all of the legal rights that are owed to a person under the principle. Due process balances the power of the state law of the land and thus protects individual persons from it...

 of law: "But by the Law of the Land. For the true sense and exposition of these words, see the Statute of 37 Edw. 3 cap. 8 where the words, by the law of the Land, are rendered, without due process of Law...."

How it changes

In eighteenth century England, William Blackstone
William Blackstone
Sir William Blackstone KC SL was an English jurist, judge and Tory politician of the eighteenth century. He is most noted for writing the Commentaries on the Laws of England. Born into a middle class family in London, Blackstone was educated at Charterhouse School before matriculating at Pembroke...

wrote that the law of the land "depends not upon the arbitrary will of any judge; but is permanent, fixed, and unchangeable, unless by authority of parliament.... Not only the substantial part, or judicial decisions, of the law, but also the formal part, or method of proceeding, cannot be altered but by parliament."
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