The family is gathered in the lawyer’s conference room for the reading of the will of his recently deceased client.  The lawyer says he will skip the preliminaries and usual boilerplate and proceed to the gifts, devises and bequests.

“I hereby leave to my daughter, Sheree, the houses at Wellington Point.

“My son Grant shall have the Redland Bay houses.

“My daughter Letitia is given the apartments over at Victoria Point.

“My son Adam shall have the offices over Cleveland Business Center.

“And finally Katerina, my beloved wife, please take all the residential buildings on the Canals at Raby Bay.”

Having finished, the lawyer commented “I didn’t know Mr. King before he came in to have me draft his will.  He must have been a very hard-working man to have accumulated so much property.”

Katerina snorted and said “Property nothing! The bum had a paper route.”

The Magna Carta

This year marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of The Magna Carta.  Translated from Latin to English, it is “The Great Charter.” King John of England was pressured, more likely forced, by the nobles of the land to sign it in 1215.  It is the first document to set out limits on the power of the King and describe the rights of “free men.” It provided, among many other things, that no free man shall be imprisoned, exiled, deprived of his rights or property or otherwise disturbed, except by lawful judgment of his peers (equals) or the law of the land.   The Magna Carta was the beginning of constitutional government in England.  It’s principles have been carried forth in the constitutions of our nation and all our states.  The right to trial by jury, “Due Process” and “Equal Protection of the Law” began with this renowned document.

Good Citizenship

When I was in the 8th grade I was required to take “Civics.” It taught us a great deal about how government works at all levels in the United States.  We learned about the Constitution and the “great documents,” including, of course, The Magna Carta. We became familiar with how bills moved through congress and state legislatures to become laws.  The importance of an independent, non-partisan judicial system was emphasized.  I have been very sorry to learn that many public schools no longer require the study of Civics.  Some do not even offer it as an elective class.  Perhaps that has a lot to do with the fact that so many young people no longer bother to vote.

It is likely that my readers are well aware of the importance of good citizenship.  But as we approach the 4th of July, it seems appropriate to mention a few things to refresh our knowledge of some fundamentals.  Good citizens called for jury service do so without complaint absent a very good reason, and even then, they volunteer to serve at a later date.

Good citizenship is demonstrated by exercising your blessed right to vote in every election in which you are entitled to participate.  Voters should be educated about issues and candidates.  If one is ignorant on some matters, ask someone who knows.  For instance, if you don’t know much about judicial candidates or whether certain appellate judges should be retained on the bench, ask your lawyer.  Most lawyers are pleased to answer such questions.  Remember that TV ads aren’t much help when a voter wants to learn whom to support for any office in our court system.

Good citizenship requires us to oppose any effort by anyone to suppress the number of people who vote or make it more complicated or difficult for them to cast their ballots.  It should be easy to vote.  Elections could be held on weekends when many would find it easier to participate.  Other countries do that with satisfactory results.  In Uruguay, everyone votes, because those who don’t bother may be subject to a fine.

Of course, there must be precautions to protect the secrecy and honesty of elections, but beware when sinister purposes are disguised by allegations of the need for more safeguards.

My views on photo ID laws are well known.  I won’t state them here.  But when required, the IDs should be made available and convenient to obtain in every county.  It would be simple to provide a camera for that purpose in every county clerk’s office.   As it is now, many citizens must travel to another county to get a photo ID.  In my county, a round trip of about 60 miles is needed.  And if one is told he lacks sufficient supporting documents, he must go home and come back.  The photo IDs are free, but time lost and travel expense are not.

Becoming a Citizen

One becomes a citizen in two ways, at birth or by choice through a legal process called naturalization.  I may write about the latter in the future.  Here are some facts about citizenship at birth.  No matter who your parents are or where they reside or which country they are citizens of, you are automatically an American citizen if you are born in any state or the District of Columbia.  Also, if born on a U. S.  military base in another country or in an American territory such as Puerto Rico, the baby is a citizen.

If both parents are citizens or one parent is a citizen who has actually resided in the U. S., then their children may claim U. S.  citizenship, regardless where born.  (An exception is that children born here to parents who are serving as diplomats of their country keep the citizenship of their parents.)

Some people are eligible to claim dual citizenship.  A child born in the U. K. to American parents may be a citizen of both.


This column discusses legal issues of general interest and does not give legal advice on any reader’s personal situation.   The law is not a one-size-fits-all hat.   Consult a lawyer of your choice.

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