Coke, Edward (1552–1634)

Author:Daniel J. Meador

Page 439

Edward Coke (pronounced Cook) was an English lawyer, judge, and parliamentarian who influenced the development of English and American constitutional law by promoting the supremacy of the COMMON LAW in relation to parliamentary powers and the royal prerogative.

After studying at Trinity College, Cambridge, Coke entered the Inner Temple and was called to the Bar in 1578. His career was outstanding from the start. He was elected to Parliament in 1589 and in 1593 he became Speaker of the House of Commons. Appointed attorney-general in 1594, he prosecuted several notable TREASON cases, including that of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1603.

In 1600, Coke began publication of his Reports. Eleven volumes had been published by 1615; two additional volumes appeared after his death. These were not collections of appellate opinions; rather, they consisted of case notes made by Coke, legal history, and general criticism. Coke had mastered the precedents, and he brought symmetry to scattered authority. Thereafter, The Reports, as they were usually called, were the authoritative common law precedents in England and colonial America.

Coke was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas in 1606, serving until 1613, when he was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench. His judicial career was terminated in 1616 when King James I removed him from office. During these years Coke began enunciating ideas concerning the supremacy of the common law, foreshadowing modern concepts of government under law.

Coke's judicial pronouncement most influential on the American doctrine of JUDICIAL REVIEW came in BONHAM ' S CASE (1610). The College of Physicians had fined and imprisoned Dr. Bonham for practicing medicine without a license. The court held that because the College would share in the fine, the charter and parliamentary act conferring this authority were contrary to the common law principle that no man can be a judge in his own case. Coke stated: "And it appears in our books, that in many cases, the common law will control acts of parliament, and sometimes adjudge them to be utterly void: for when an act of parliament is against common right and reason, or repugnant, or impossible to be performed, the common law will control it, and adjudge such act to be void.?" Coke believed that the common law contained a body of fundamental, although not unchangeable, principles to be ascertained and enunciated by judges through the...

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