Local News

N.C. Wins Legal Battle Over Bill of Rights

Posted March 24, 2008 2:46 p.m. EDT

— A Superior Court judge on Monday ended the five-year tug-of-war over North Carolina's original copy of the Bill of Rights.

Judge Henry Hight's order ended all remaining claims to the document and declared the state the sole owner.

The document spelling out the rights of American citizens originally was given to North Carolina by George Washington in 1789. It was stolen from the state Capitol by a Union soldier at the end of the Civil War.

The document eventually wound up in the hands of Wayne Pratt, a Connecticut antiques dealer, who five years ago tried to sell it for $5 million. But his search for a buyer ended with an FBI sting operation, and the Bill of Rights copy was turned over to North Carolina officials based on a seizure warrant signed by a federal judge in Raleigh.

The Bill of Rights was returned to North Carolina in 2005, but a court battle continued to wage over its ownership.

“The Bill of Rights is more than words on a piece of paper. It’s a powerful part of our history and a symbol of our liberty,” Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a statement. “It belongs to the people, and it belongs here in North Carolina, for good.”

State officials had tried several times before to recover the stolen document. But they always refused to pay for it, saying they shouldn't have to pay for something that was stolen from the state.