Some important stops
along the road to today’s
American legal system...
2350 B.C.E. Urukagina’s Code
• This code consolidated
existing laws laid down by
– It indicated that the king was
appointed by the gods and that
ordinary citizens were allowed
to know why certain actions
would be punished.
1700 B.C.E. Hammurabi’s Code
• This early written code contained 282
clauses regulating a vast array of
• By modern standards, punishments were
very harsh (an “eye for an eye,” “a tooth
for a tooth”)
1300 B.C.E. Ten Commandments
• According to the Bible,
Moses received a list of ten
laws directly from God.
• Many of these are contained
in modern laws: “Thou shalt
not kill,” “Thou shalt not
621 B.C.E. Draco’s Law
• Draco was a Greek citizen chosen to write a
code of law for Athens.
• These were the first written laws of Greece.
They introduced the idea of the state (rather
than private parties) providing punishments for
• The punishments were very harsh
(often death), hence the modern
word draconian (unduly harsh).
530 B.C.E. Book of Punishments
• This legal book printed in China listed the ways
a person could be punished after being
convicted of a crime.
– They included tattooing, cutting off of the nose,
castration, feet amputation and death.
450 B.C.E. The Twelve Tablets
• These twelve written laws gave Romans
the foundation of all modern laws.
• An injured person could seek
compensation from those who caused the
harm (a precursor to our tort system),
even people from the lower classes who
were harmed by the ruling
529 Justinian’s Code
• This codification of Roman law inspired
the modern concept of “justice.”
• This code formed the basis of the civil law
system, and many aspects of this code
can be found in the laws of European
countries into this century.
604 The Seventeen Article
Constitution of Japan
• This Constitution shaped morality and law
in Japan with its emphasis on seeking
ways to avoid dispute, whereas Western
law seeks to resolve disputes.
– “Chastise that which is evil and encourage
that which is good.”
653 T’ang Code
• This Chinese code clearly distinguished different
levels of severity in meted punishments when
different members of the social and political
hierarchy committed the same crime.[
• Around this time fingerprinting was invented in
1100 First Law School
• …founded in Bologna, Italy
Irnerius (c. 1050 – after 1125) whose
chief work was the first medieval system
of Roman jurisprudence.
1215 Magna Carta
• King John of England
signed this document
to concede many
legal rights to barons
and to the people.
• The Magna Carta laid
rights that all
– even the
King – had to
1689 English Bill of Rights
• This set out strict limits on the legal powers of
the Royal Family and limited arbitrary taxing
1700s European Enlightenment
• During this period many thinkers in France
and England believed that the world could
be made better through the application of
• These thinkers – including Voltaire,
Rousseau, Locke, and Montesquieu –
tended to oppose prevailing
religion and aristocracy.
• Their belief in natural law, equality, self-
determination, inherent freedoms, and
separation of government powers had an
enormous influence on the development of
1765 Blackstone’s Commentaries on
the Laws of England
• This four volume set made the law easy for lay
people and assisted in the transfer of the
English common law to the colonies.
1776 American Declaration of
• This document declared that all men were
created equal and that they had
inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness.
• Government derived its powers from the
consent of the governed.
1787 U.S. Constitution
• These seven articles signed in
Philadelphia set out the duties of the
executive, legislative, and judicial
branches and created a structure of
government with checks and balances.
1791 Bill of Rights
• These first ten amendments to the Constitution
established basic rights and limited the power of
the federal government.
1803 Marbury v. Madison
• This case is considered a landmark
decision because in it, the U.S. Supreme
Court upheld the supremacy of the
Constitution and established the principle
of judicial review, which allows the Court
to strike down laws enacted by the federal
or state legislatures that the
Court considers in violation
of the Constitution.
1864 The Geneva Convention
• This agreement provides for minimal
human rights in a time of war, such as
treating wounded people and military
medical personnel humanely.
• It was later supplemented by the Prisoner
of War Convention and is still relevant
1868 Fourteenth Amendment
• Prohibited states from denying due
process or equal protection of the laws.
• Its Citizenship Clause provides a broad
definition of citizenship that overruled the
decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857),
which held that blacks could not be
citizens of the United States
1919 Eighteenth Amendment
• Prohibited manufacture, sale, or transportation
of alcoholic beverages in the United States
• Repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment
1920 Nineteenth Amendment
• Gave women the right
1964 Twenty-fourth Amendment
• Strengthened voting rights and banned poll and
other such taxes
1971 Twenty-sixth Amendment
• The right to vote was extended to those 18 or