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[Ilya Somin (guest-blogging), April 5, 2006 at 6:42pm] Trackbacks
The Law of Star Trek:

Legal Affairs has an interesting review of a new volume of articles by legal scholars on the role of law in Star Trek. Although I like science fiction (despite not being a "Trekkie"), I wonder if this is the most productive possible use of academic research effort. It certainly won't help law professors overcome the invidious stereotype that we are a bunch of nerds who have no life!

Finally, at the risk of being inundated with angry e-mails by Star Trek fans, I have to say that, in my view, the treatment of law and politics in Star Trek is not as interesting and sophisticated as that in other sci-fi series such as Babylon 5 and the new Battlestar Galactica. But for fear of really reinforcing the invidious stereotype noted above, I'm not going to write an essay justifying this conclusion!

R:
It's about time.

Now maybe the Supreme Court can finally start looking to Star Trek to help them make decisions.
4.5.2006 8:02pm
john penn:
it's not an invidious stereotype if you're posting stuff like this....it's just an accurate one!!
4.5.2006 8:07pm
Andy Cohen (www):
Soon to come: AG Gonzales citing Klingon High Council rulings to justify explain away any Eighth Ammendment violations in Abu Ghirab, Guantanamo, etc...
4.5.2006 8:12pm
Matt Barr (mail) (www):
You happen to mention Battlestar Galactica at just about the same time I ponder a more pressing question on my blog: Starbuck or Chloe from 24?

I've never seen Babylon 5, but agree very much that the treatment of today's legal and political issues is terrific on BG, even if sometimes forced. (I'm thinking about abortion becoming a campaign issue for about 20 minutes.) I also probably cynically thought a politician losing an election because she refused to tell people what they wanted to hear was a little unrealistic, but what are you going to do.
4.5.2006 8:19pm
Fishbane (mail):
Vernor Vinge's books always have an interesting take on law and political systems. I'm thinking in particular of the Marooned In Realtime trilogy, but even A Deepness In The Sky has moments.
4.5.2006 8:24pm
David C. (www):
Sir, you are correct.

B5 was by far the most interesting and well thought out SF show ever.
4.5.2006 8:28pm
Tom Round (mail) (www):
For my part, I think it's a very productive use of academic time to ask yourself: "These writers have tried to depict a realistic but alien [or future] legal system [or law] in this work. What can we learn from it?" A lot of early-modern (pre-1776) constitution-making reads, to us today, not that much different from outright spec[ulative]-fi[ction]; compare, say, More's "Utopia" with Cromwell's Instrument of Government or Locke's Fundamental Constitutions of the Carolinas...
4.5.2006 8:45pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Spock:"I am attempting to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bearskins"
4.5.2006 8:51pm
SenatorX (mail):
I would like to recommend the sci fi series Dune as a better choice for study. Though I supposed lawyers might have some qualms about a couple thousand years of giant worm tyranny.

I can't help but look at Saudi princes and think Harkonnens though.

I always did love Spock though. Vulcan Law, now that might be interesting.
4.5.2006 9:13pm
Max Kaehn (mail) (www):
I was kind of bummed Century City was canceled.
4.5.2006 9:19pm
Bruce:
I have to say that, in my view, the treatment of law and politics in Star Trek is not as interesting and sophisticated as that in other sci-fi series such as Babylon 5 and the new Battlestar Galactica.

This Trek fan does not disagree with you in the slightest. The government running the Star Trek universe was always extremely fuzzy in TOS; that way viewers could just assume it was ideal, without the writers actually having to invent the ideal government. Roddenberry's original vision was one of a kind of utopia, where ordinary politics, religion, nationalism, etc. had disappeared. (Sure nationalism made a reappearance with Chekhov, but it was a source of jokes and nothing else.) I don't think the name UFP made an appearance until 2nd season, but I could be wrong. It's not surprising that when more details about Star Fleet at least were revealed in later STTNG seasons, they seemed awfully non-ideal and 20th-century.

And law served as backdrop in a couple of episodes, but it was obvious it was a not-very-well-thought-out plot device. (The legal procedure in Court-Martial is idiotic.) STTNG did better on this score, with one episode devoted to a very interesting legal question (again with silly procedures): Can Data resign his commission? The analogy Picard draws to win the day is an old SF issue, but fun to watch nevertheless.
4.5.2006 9:26pm
Adam:
Ditto what David C said. B5 remains the best sci-fi show. Helped that the entire plotline was written out before they filmed the first episode.
4.5.2006 9:27pm
Peter Wimsey:
I always thought that one of the most unrealistic thing about star trek was the absence of lawyers on the ship. It seems like every other episode, they were negotiating trade agreements, arbitrating disputes, signing peace treaties, or (most commonly) violating the prime directive. And of course people were always getting thrown in the brig.

So, to be realistic, ST actually needed several staff attorneys to serve as crewmembers of the ship. They could wear pinstriped uniforms and have a little scale on their chest insignia.
4.5.2006 9:32pm
Goober (mail):
Patently untrue:


...I wonder if this is the most productive possible use of academic research effort.



There's no possible way you actually wonder that!
4.5.2006 9:37pm
Lanthanist:

It's about time.

Now maybe the Supreme Court can finally start looking to Star Trek to help them make decisions.


Next up for SCOTUS: Can the president order warrentless mindmelds?
4.5.2006 9:41pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
They should present their papers at Comic-Con -- the Comic Arts Conference is always fun (and now even grad students -- with advisors in tow -- present their work alongside Mr. Amateur Intellectual, Who's Been Publishing His Own Zine for the Last 28 Years.) I've often said that if I ever get to law school, I'm going to present a paper on community attitudes towards the law as evidenced by the actions of their superheroes (I'm thinking of comparing the "children piloting giant machines" stuff from Japan with Batman and Superman; remembering that Superman has actually allowed himself to be sued, when he doesn't even consider the linear nature of time, and potential ghastly side effects of time travel, to be a sufficient barrier to his own whims.)

Star Trek was always hobbled by the writers' insistence on that claim of idealistic future living; some of the better TNG episodes and all of the stuff on DS9 stemmed directly from confronting not-so-idealistic sides of the fictional Federation's government; think of the Maquis and the whole "we've decided to turn this territory over to the Cardassians, oops, sorry you didn't have any say in that, try not to complain too much while you're being oppressed, would you please," thing. They also, a few times, used the "we're all open loving happy people who don't worry or prohibit anything!" concept as a dramatic catalyst: the 20th century humans can use the comm system at will to drag the captain down to their quarters in the midst of a crisis, it's a relative breeze for children to take action (Clara in the episode with the imaginary friend, the captain &friends in the episode where they were inadvertently turned into children and had to rescue the Enterprise while the adults in the crew had been sent down to the planet, etc.) And the Federation's committment to interstellar law is the only reason the plot of Star Trek VI is possible.

B5 benefited from the assumption that things were just as screwed up in the future and people just as flawed as they are today, except that they're in space and aliens are around and frankly it's all a lot more dangerous and creepy. And yes, the storyline was set up in advance, but that doesn't really speak to why they had a believable and intriguing treatment of politics and law.

I'd say BSG is closer to the B5 level, but not there just yet. You get the feeling that stuff has been set up in order to say a particular thing about something going on in the real world, instead of being set up because it's an intriguing story or interesting thing to talk about. Various political bodies have powers that seem to evaporate or expand depending on the needs of the storyline; one day the Quorum of the Twelve must be placated even under a military coup, and the next day no one needs to talk to them at all; the President can do anything she wants. Huh? The basic relationship between the military and the executive branch seems to depend wholly on the relationship between whoever's in command of the military and whoever's in charge in the executive branch; the President has the most power when Adama is flirting with her and is reduced to a figurehead when Cain shows up in the next episode. The President's authority over criminals and prisoners of war is just as variable as anything else, and half the command staff of the population's primary means of defense thinks it's no big deal to commit massive election fraud, despite having grown up in a federation that apparently values democracy and the will of the people as much as anything... and everyone knows that if the will of the people isn't actually met, they'll just do their own thing anyway (they've done it twice so far!)

I lined up for two episodes of Star Wars for a total of 12 weeks; I really don't care if people think I'm a nerd. And no one in the profession of law seems to have much of a life -- at least, none of the law students and lawyers I've met do.
4.5.2006 10:31pm
Steve Lubet (mail):
I don't see why you are so surprised. Great careers have been premised on the role of law in a fictional universe?

Law and economics types have been writing about that for decades. The only difference is that Klingons are more believable.
4.5.2006 10:37pm
Steve Lubet (mail):
Oops. Should have been "Great careers have long been premised on the role of law in a fictional universe!!"
4.5.2006 10:38pm
steve k:
I'd like to know where in the Federation's regulations it says Kirk can conduct a marriage ceremony? He claims it's an old captain's right, but that's not true.
4.5.2006 10:55pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Hmmm there was an Original Star Trek episode titled "Court Martial"..havent seen it though.
4.5.2006 10:56pm
Paradox:
Law professors should stick to writing articles about Star Trek Law. That'll do a lot less damage than some of the articles they write that actually influence the courts.
4.5.2006 10:56pm
Cornellian (mail):
Huh? The basic relationship between the military and the executive branch seems to depend wholly on the relationship between whoever's in command of the military and whoever's in charge in the executive branch; the President has the most power when Adama is flirting with her and is reduced to a figurehead when Cain shows up in the next episode.

To be fair to Battlestar Galactica, which is a great series, the premise is that the last of humanity (just 50,000 people) is fleeing in a convoy of ships, constantly being chased by an implacable enemy. Under those circumstances, it is perfectly reasonable to expect that the relative power of the President and the military might turn more on charisma and personalities and less on the constitution or rulings of an independent judiciary.
4.5.2006 11:15pm
Randy R. (mail):
Lawyers have argued whether Shakespeare actually wrote his plays, or someone else. I think once the Supreme Court heard an argument that was raised Merchant of Venice, I think. But maybe some other play. They did it for fun...
4.5.2006 11:19pm
Tom Round (mail) (www):
> "The government running the Star Trek universe was always extremely fuzzy in TOS; that way viewers could just assume it was ideal, without the writers actually having to invent the ideal government. Roddenberry's original vision was one of a kind of utopia"

David Gerrold's book on the Original[ist?] Series notes that the 1966 "bible" for the show said "We'll never take a story back to Earth, so don't worry what it's like, and we won't get into any debates about which political and economic system worked out best..." [my paraphrase]

The economics were always very fuzzy. In "The Neutral Zone", Picard informs a revived Texan millionaire (who had himself frozen and shot into space to avoid death by cancer) that people no longer use money or strive for material acquisition. OTOH, in DS9, Benj Sisko's dad was always worried about keeping his family restaurant (in New Orleans, ironically, IIRC -- or maybe New New Orleans) financially viable. Presumably the replicators had solved the Problem of Scarcity.

> "I always thought that one of the most unrealistic thing about star trek was the absence of lawyers on the ship"

DS9 would throw in a reference every 2-3 episodes to "the Station Magistrate" trying malefactors whom Odo and his security people arrested, but we never got to see this personage, or even hear their name.
4.5.2006 11:29pm
Bruce:
Gerrold's book is great for anyone interested in the history of the show.

Sarah, we'll have to agree to disagree. I thought the whole Maquis thing was out of place for Star Trek, for pretty much exactly the reasons you liked it.
4.5.2006 11:43pm
Tom T (www):
I actually made myself write a fake brief on the legal issues present in the Lord of the Rings to force myself to learn the law of personal property. I found it to be immensely helpful. There's such a wealth of good hypos in science fiction and fantasy that it becomes great practice for exams.
4.5.2006 11:57pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
re the "Court Martial" episode of TOS. Kirk was courtmartialed in the case of a crewmember who was accidently killed during a drill...or was it really an accident? In typical Kirk fashion, the prosecutor turns out to be one of his former girlfriends.
4.6.2006 12:09am
PersonFromPorlock:
Here's one vote for the legal system of Ankh-Morpork: the Patrician may not be the Multiverses' greatest democrat but he has style, as evidenced by his prescription for street mimes: hang them by the ankles in the scorpion pit, in front of a sign reading "Learn The Words."
4.6.2006 12:37am
Jim Hu:
Law was in Star Trek from the very beginning. The original pilot became the Menagerie, in which a trial of Spock is used to recount the events that happened to Christopher Pike on Talos 4. The pilot was recycled as a two-parter titled "The Menagerie".
4.6.2006 12:55am
Perseus:
we won't get into any debates about which political and economic system worked out best.

I guess someone prodded them to do the patriotic "Omega Glory" episode with the (Asian) "Comm"unists and "Yang"kees.
4.6.2006 1:14am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
I'd like to know where in the Federation's regulations it says Kirk can conduct a marriage ceremony? He claims it's an old captain's right, but that's not true.

The inherent powers of the Captaincy?
4.6.2006 1:33am
Tom Round (mail):
Perseus, they also took stories back to Earth itself -- even in the Original Canon, IIRC ("Operation: Annihilate!", I think). The "bible" was just GeneRodd's outline of advice to potential writers for the show as to what he had in mind.

Of course, most on-screen Trek since circa 1986 has made, or would make, Roddenberry's cremated orbiting ashes spin in their grave.

yes, Gerrold's "The World of Star Trek" (1973) is a great book. It goes beyond nerdish fandom to seriously probe the strengths and weaknesses of the original series. It is very interesting to see how post-1979 additions to the Trek canon have, or haaven't, deviated from Gerrold's "Monday-morning quarterbacking" (as he called it) in '73.
4.6.2006 2:18am
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
Presumably the replicators had solved the Problem of Scarcity.

For the most part. Wikipedia states, "A drawback to this process is that it is impossible to replicate objects with complicated quantum structures such as living beings, dilithium, or latinum." This explains why replicated food doesn't taste quite the same as the real farm-grown thing, why dilithium (or its ores) have to be found in nature, and why latinum is used to back currency. (Can't remember where I read this, but someone once wondered why the Ferengi depend on barter rather than innovating some sort of electronic funds transfer.)

If the show had been helmed by sensible armchair economists, Star Trek could have done a better job of exploring an interstellar economy based on non-replicatable goods, services (like replicator maintenance), and intellectual property.
4.6.2006 2:40am
Fishbane (mail):
If the show had been helmed by sensible armchair economists, Star Trek could have done a better job of exploring an interstellar economy based on non-replicatable goods, services (like replicator maintenance), and intellectual property.

...Thus bringing us full circle, with that favored topic to many Star Trek fans, Open Source and the impending death of intellectual property, and the rise of the technical service market.
4.6.2006 3:15am
Splunge (mail):
Oy, don't get me wrong, I think BSG is a fantastic show, the only thing I've found worth watching on the tube in nearly 20 years, and they continually tell completely absorbing stories about human interactions.

But its political structure, while perhaps providing a recognizable enough backdrop to make us feel comfortable in the fantasy world, and necessary to set up some of the interesting interpersonal conflicts in the story, must be recognized as laughably unrealistic. There is no way the last 50,000 members of humanity, fleeing an implacable and extraordinarily lethal enemy who has agents in their midst, would fiddle around with the languid college debating club-style leadership we indulge ourselves in when we are fat and happy and the wolf is far from the door.

I mean, take this last episode where Roslin, the tribal co-leader, recalls seeing Baltar with a cylon before the entire planet gets nuked. He might be the deadliest imaginable traitor to humanity, responsible for the near-extermination of the species -- indeed, she is convinced he is. And Adama, her military counterpart, believes her but says, oh gosh, you don't have any proof, so, la la I guess we can't do anything. Just have to let him become the new President, maybe betray us all, allow the species to be wiped out. It's the principle, you know?

Er, excuse me? A successful leader of a tribe in the ultimate war for survival would indulge in scholarly quibbles about the nature of sufficient proof when the survival of the entire species is at risk? Rational men and women do not act that way.* A real Adama would have without a moment's hesitation sent five men to cut Baltar's throat as soon as he heard the news. No man -- and no theory of justice -- is so indispensable that the existence of the species can be risked for it.

----------
* More precisely, the men and women who would survive in such a situation do not think this way. Plenty of modern men and women do, I realize, but then we live in a soft environment, so well protected against threats of this magnitude that we can hardly imagine them, so we can afford such narcissism.
4.6.2006 3:41am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Captains have always had the power to officiate marriage ceremonies, the Skipper did it on Gilligans Island several times.
4.6.2006 7:37am
George Gregg (mail):
Excellent comment, Splunge!

And bonus points to Frank for mentioning Gilligan's Island. That scenario has always fascinated me in terms of how law and politics might develop in a similar situation, (i.e., a small group stranded on an island.

I would imagine that in such a scenario, the Skipper would have some credible leadership in the early days but this would begin to dissolve after several weeks went by and the castaways realized they were no longer on board his vessel. But the strong personality of the tycoon and the superior intelligence of the professor, as well as the growing fatigue and fractiousness of the rest, would eventually undermine the Skipper's inherent initial claim to power. Eventually, the only way the he could retain power would be over his original crew, which would occasionally become rebellious, and over the rest of the group when there was a looming threat, by virtue of his former military leadership experience and his general brusque robustness.

And this is what actually happened in the show, as farcical and absurd as it generally was. A number of episodes had some element of the political and legal dynamic of the island, which I didn't always catch when I watched the show in my childhood.
4.6.2006 8:25am
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
Few things:
Tom Round: "Operation: Annihilate" doesn't take place on Earth, it's some colony/outpost world. TOS never shows (their) present-day Earth. The only occasions they returned to Earth were time-travel episodes in which they return to the 1960s (twice) and the 1930s (once).
Law/econ: as several commenters have noted, we only see trials in military-law contexts, so this tells us nothing about how TOS conceived of civilian law. But we do know that, contrary to the hyper-PC ST:TNG, the world of TOS has money and private property. This comes up in several episodes (see my note to this effect in the April 2005 issue of _The Freeman_, p. 41). We also know that it's a federalist type society - planets join the UFP voluntarily, but retain their own autonomy w.r.t legal/political structures. Examples abound; the first one that comes to mind is "Wolf in the Fold," but there are several others.
David Gerrold's book has many virtues, esp. w.r.t. the history of the show, but is weak in the last section where he makes his normative criticisms.
4.6.2006 9:47am
abb3w:
Well, on a sillier note, I've been curious for years about seeing the judge's final ruling in the Coyote v. Acme. Since I haven't heard any new motions in this celebrity case coming out in nigh a decade, I presume the Judge hearing the case granted summary judgement (although I suppose it's barely conceivable the two parties came to a settlement agreement instead). I suppose I could contact the office of the Clerk for the SW AZ district court to inquire....
4.6.2006 9:53am
Joshua (www):
Bruce wrote:
Sarah, we'll have to agree to disagree. I thought the whole Maquis thing was out of place for Star Trek, for pretty much exactly the reasons you liked it.


The Maquis were invented for one reason and one reason only: to help set up the premise for Star Trek: Voyager. Once that series was launched, their presence in DS9 (and briefly at the tail end of TNG) went from ... to merely superfluous.

George Gregg wrote:
And bonus points to Frank for mentioning Gilligan's Island. That scenario has always fascinated me in terms of how law and politics might develop in a similar situation, (i.e., a small group stranded on an island.


To its discredit, Voyager (which fans have often compared to Gilligan's Island for obvious reasons) only occasionally touched on these issues, and then only in the first few seasons, before it became the "Seven of Nine Show".
4.6.2006 11:40am
Joshua (www):
"...went from ... to merely superfluous."

Should read "...went from out of place to merely superfluous."
4.6.2006 11:41am
Houston Lawyer:
I've seen a lot of Sci-Fi, but I don't recall any lawyers. In Star Trek, any old officer will do as your counsel. It seems that all of the alien cultures have some sort of trial procedure set up that all the locals know how to handle. The defendant is almost always entitled to an advocate, who ususally is one of the other usual cast members. I suspect this has much to do with the necessity of keeping the audience focused on the characters they are already rooting for and the complications of intoducing new and unnecessary characters.
4.6.2006 11:42am
JosephSlater (mail):
This sort of thing was done before, by the Law Review at my school, albeit before I started teaching here. See

25 U. Tol. L. Rev. 577 (1994) THE INTERSTELLAR RELATIONS OF THE FEDERATION: INTERNATIONAL LAW AND "STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION" Michael P. Scharf and Lawrence D. Roberts

and

24 U. Tol. L. Rev. 43 (1992) THE LAW OF THE FEDERATION: IMAGES OF LAW, LAWYERS, AND THE LEGAL SYSTEM IN "STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION" Paul Joseph and Sharon Carton.
4.6.2006 11:54am
BobH (mail):
"the most productive possible use of academic research effort...."

I've been practicing law for 30 years now, and I've always wondered why law professors do academic research in the first place. Does anybody care except other law professors? I undertake legal research literally every day in my job (and by literally I mean literally, not figuratively), and have never consulted a law review article. Why would I want to? As far as I can tell, law review articles -- the embodiment of "academic research effort" -- have essentially zero impact on the real legal world, unless perhaps by some arcane process of osmosis of which I am unaware.
4.6.2006 12:52pm
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
Houston Lawyer: "I've seen a lot of Sci-Fi, but I don't recall any lawyers. In Star Trek, any old officer will do as your counsel."
Not at all. In "Court-Martial," which centers on, well, a court-martial, it's pretty clear that the prosecutor is in some Starfleet-analogue to the JAG Corps, and the defense attorney is a _civilian_ lawyer, specifically sought-out for an area of expertise. In "The Menagerie," Spock waives his right to counsel, implying that there is such a right, and presumably lawyers. Starfleet officers are sometimes shown holding disciplinary hearings, or detaining criminals, but I don't recall offhand any time when legal representation was performed by "any old officer."
4.6.2006 1:07pm
Theodore (mail):
Splunge is nearly right.....in real life, instead of cutting Baltar's throat, they would have taken him to the nearest airlock and spaced him.
4.6.2006 1:12pm
Robert Racansky:
In the (new) Battlestar Galactica, William Adama is the son of a lawyer.

This may explain is devotion to the rule of law.
4.6.2006 1:19pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Finally, at the risk of being inundated with angry e-mails by Star Trek fans, I have to say that, in my view, the treatment of law and politics in Star Trek is not as interesting and sophisticated as that in other sci-fi series such as Babylon 5 and the new Battlestar Galactica.


Agreed, B5 definitely did a better job with the issues politics and the law but IMO that was largely a function of developing the cultures of a few major alien races and showing their inner complexities rather than simply introducing "the alien of the week whose culture is a metaphor for a single issue rather than a functioning society" which was a huge problem for Star Trek. Even the "major" alien races (e.g. Vulcans, Klingons) had a single monoculture in which nearly ever individual was simply a variation on the same theme (e.g. logical Vulcans, violent Klingons) and developing characters who might show a different POV within that culture was the exception rather than the rule.

It also helps that B5 only used time travel twice and each time was an essential part of the overarching story rather than a cheap plot device to gratuitously kill off characters and reboot the story.

BTW: has anyone else read "Articles of the Federation" by Keith R.A. DeCandido? It explores the administration of the new President of the Federation who took over after the Dominion War. It's a bit too "West Wing" for my tastes (and the author actually uses this as a selling point) in that it creates a rather improbable set of characters who are naturally smarter and more articulate than their opponents and sit around making wisecracks while everything falls into place around them. It does however give a bit more insight into the workings of the Federation government (an amalgamation of the UN and the United States federal government) but in the three-fourths of the book I've finished it seems as if the author simply took two vastly different systems and nailed them together in hopes that the readers would buy that it works.

On the plus side though, it makes reference to events the "A Time to . . . " series of books which take place after the last movie. One of the positive developments in Star Trek books is that the authors seem to be taking a page from the Star Wars extended universe series and trying to create a more comprehensive set of stories that are more consistent with a larger fictional universe rather than each going off in their own direction (e.g. the Romulan commander from "The Enterprise Incident" becomes Praetor, gets killed, or falls in love with a Kirk clone depending on which book you're reading).
4.6.2006 1:44pm
Wombat:
As others have noted, Star Trek's replicators created a "Post-Scarcity" culture; such drastic changes to the underpinnings of our legal structure would make the point of any such research questionable in my opinion.

A far more believable scenario would be Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. His Matter Compilers (essentially replicators) allowed unlimited access to synthetic rice, paper clothing, and basic medical supplies, but left everything else up to standard capitalistic markets. This ensured that no one starved in the street, but did not reward sloth either.
(As an aside, The Diamond Age's political structures are rather neat - it takes place in one of those post-nations worlds authors were so fond of at the end of the cold war. Essentially, some of the "governments" are federations of individuals, where the only connection individuals have to others of their government are shared values and purposely constructed social rituals.)

I would be especially hesitant about drawing any inferences from Deep Space Nine. The station was run under Bajoran civil law - Security Chief Odo (the Sheriff figure) was working for the planet Bajor, and was not a member of Star Fleet. The magistrates mentioned in so many episodes are actually judges in the Bajoran legal system (and I am not sure Bajor ever even became a member of the Federation).
4.6.2006 1:44pm
Sir Francis Burdett (mail):
So said Splunge:
I mean, take this last episode where Roslin,

Not to necessarily disagree with Splunge's analysis but

Dude, how about a Spoiler Alert next time?

The Brits (for instance) haven't seen this episode yet.
4.6.2006 1:49pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

Starfleet officers are sometimes shown holding disciplinary hearings, or detaining criminals, but I don't recall offhand any time when legal representation was performed by "any old officer."


In "The Measure Of A Man" (which I believe was the only episode to feature a JAG officer who served as judge) Picard and Riker served as counsel to determine whether Data was a sentient being. In "A Matter Of Perspective," Riker was accused of murdering a scientist and the used the holodeck to recreate the "crime" from the perspective of each of the witnesses, Picard served as counsel. In "Devil's Due," Ardra (a con artist pretending to be a demon) claimed to have the right to take over an entire planet in which Picard was counsel and Data served as judge. On DS9, Sisko served as defense counsel in "Dax," "Rejoined" and "Rules Of Engagement" for Dax, Dax, and Worf respectively.

I'm probably missing a few (and I won't even get into how dysfunctional Klingon law appears to be -- how do you run an interstellar empire when the Chancellor and High Council have to preside over cases involving land disputes?). But it seems to me that any officer at or above the rank of Commander can be used as counsel for the episode (Lt. Commander if you're an android).
4.6.2006 2:17pm
Xmas (mail) (www):
David Gerrold should stop writing about Star Trek and get back and finish the damn Chtorr War!

Now there's an interesting Science Fiction series that should be given a legal analysis.
4.6.2006 2:25pm
Robert Racansky:
James P. Hogan's 1982 novel Voyage From Yesteryear is another sci-fi story that deals with the end of scarcity.

As I recall (it's been 18 years):

The premise is that an entire generation of humans had been raised on the planet Chiron by machines. The human colonists were sent as frozen embryos; that's all there was room for on the probe ship at the time.

With all of their material needs having been provided for, and no socio-economic influence of a previous generation, the Chironian economy was based competence, rather than accumulating wealth (which was meaningless).

The fun begins when a generation ship housing a population of thousands arrives to "reclaim" the colony on behalf of the repressive, authoritarian regime that emerged following the crisis period. The Mayflower II brings with it all the tried and tested apparatus for bringing a recalcitrant population to heel: authority, with its power structure and symbolism, to impress; commercial institutions with the promise of wealth and possessions, to tempt and ensnare; a religious presence, to awe and instill duty and obedience; and if all else fails, armed military force to compel. But what happens when these methods encounter a population that has never been conditioned to respond?
4.6.2006 2:27pm
SenatorX (mail):
Hey Xmas, what a great series that was!! I forgot about those, I think I will go find them at a used bookstore today and re-read them.

Regarding Star Trek, wouldn't Data have made the best lawyer? Hmmm who would you rather have defending you? Data or Spock?
4.6.2006 2:54pm
TomH (mail):
Senator X -

I would not want a person with no emotion defending me. I choose Kirk (with Data and Spock at second seat).

PS yes, I know Data could install the emotion chip, but generally speaking . . .
4.6.2006 3:21pm
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
Thorley Winston: I was talking about ST:TOS exclusively, and within those parameters I stand by my claim, although I'm perfectly willing to concede that it's different in the spinoff shows.
4.6.2006 3:25pm
Siona Sthrunch (mail):
Speaking of Dune, law is central to the plot of Frank Herbert's The Dosadi Experiment. The protagonist is a lawyer (among other things) who must defend his client in an alien courtroom where the loser, by popular acclaim, is killed. That would certainly cut down on frivolous filings.

Good book, I recommend it. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dosadi_Experiment .
4.6.2006 3:36pm
Colin (mail):
Xmas,

Ditto. But Gerrold really has it in for lawyers. Have you read his latest Star Wolf novel? It includes a forward that explains why he was (essentially) fired from the Star Trek team, and explains that those novels showcase some of the ideas he had for The Next Generation that were's used. Interesting stuff.
4.6.2006 3:57pm
Peter Wimsey:
Maybe the next star trek spinoff should be something like "Federation Legal." Perhaps they "fly circuit" from planet to planet to help decide legal matters. And have broad investigative and arrest powers.

Or - even better - "Star &Order", where one half of the show is the adventure/investigation part, with people beaming down to the planet to investigate: this part would have fights, people beaming down to the planet, engineers reversing the polarity[1], etc. The second part would be the legal part, with, I assume, discussions of alien law, federation law, etc.

[1] In star trek spinoffs, the most commonly tried way of fixing a malfunctioning device is by "reversing the polarity." Which sounds like they are taking the batteries out and putting them in the other way.
4.6.2006 4:28pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
How about the Brady Bunch episode were Carol was sued by the guy she rear ended in the parking lot? They made a commotion in the courtroom to make the plaintiff turn his head while in his cervial spine collar to demonstrate his malingering.
4.6.2006 4:34pm
Joshua (www):
Thorley Winston: Don't forget "The First Duty" [TNG] which was about an inquiry into the death of an Academy cadet. In that case the presiding officer was a freakin' Admiral!
4.6.2006 5:22pm
Ken Arromdee (mail):
For a look at the economics of Star Trek compared to Communism, see http://www.stardestroyer.net/Empire/Essays/Trek-Marxism.html .

As for BSG, I wondered in the abortion episode why they didn't make a law mandating that women get pregnant. After all, they opposed abortion based on the need to increase the population. If the need to increase the population is so great that we should violate women's rights to do so, there's no reason to limit that to women who are already pregnant.

Someone on Usenet also pointed out that this motive to ban abortions means they should allow abortions if the fetus is deformed or retarded, since taking care of a deformed baby is a drain on ship resources.

But I think the reason is obvious. They wanted to do an abortion story, so they made the abortion opponents on the show act like real-life abortion opponents despite any differences that would imply otherwise.
4.6.2006 5:57pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Thorley Winston: Don't forget "The First Duty" [TNG] which was about an inquiry into the death of an Academy cadet. In that case the presiding officer was a freakin' Admiral!


I thought about that one but since it was a strictly intra-Starfleet matter, I'm not sure that a tribunal made up of officers would be unusual anymore than having one made up military personnel would be today.
4.6.2006 6:22pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
As for BSG, I wondered in the abortion episode why they didn't make a law mandating that women get pregnant. After all, they opposed abortion based on the need to increase the population. If the need to increase the population is so great that we should violate women's rights to do so, there's no reason to limit that to women who are already pregnant.


I think it has to do with the fact that the character in question, President Laura Roslin, was herself pro-abortion but changed her mind not because she because she came to agree with pro-lifers that the fetus is a person and deserves the protection of the law but merely as a means to an end of staving off the extinction of the human race.

All in all, I think that the issue was handled rather badly (the A plot was far more interesting) in part because the issue was presented so one-sidedly whereas other shows at least make an effort to present both sides. On the other hand, I guess pro-lifers who are BSG fans will just have to take quiet solace in the knowledge that the only main character to come out against the abortion ban was Gaius Baltar. ;)
4.6.2006 6:38pm
Taeyoung (mail):
After all, they opposed abortion based on the need to increase the population. If the need to increase the population is so great that we should violate women's rights to do so, there's no reason to limit that to women who are already pregnant.

It's possible that there's a hierarchy of rights -- assuming, arguendo, the validity of an abortion right -- in which a prodential concern is sufficient to justify violations of the lesser rights, but insufficient to justify a violation of a more fundamental right.

Actually, on the abortion question, I've long found Dune particularly fascinating. In the universe he sets up, clearly infants are meaningfully alive well before the point of birth -- hence Alia, Leto, and Ghanima. The shared culture of the great houses (from Dune to Children of Dune) also clearly considers artificial reproductive technologies abominable, as made evident in the scene with Irulan where Paul offers to let her bear his child via artificial insemination -- this fits together with the "dirty Tleilaxu" theme that really comes to the fore in the last two books.

Taken as a whole, the "rules of the universe" that he works with and in the worldview of most of his major characters corresponds well to the most extreme anti-abortion positions here in the US.

On the other hand, the society of Dune seems basically lawless, in a modern sense, being governed almost entirely by custom at the local level, by autocratic despots from the great houses at the middle levels, and by organisations like CHOAM or the Landsraad at the highest level. Given that vengeance-taking seems culturally expected both at the lowest levels of the society (fremen) and at the highest (the Great Houses, through kanly) it's unclear whether murder is even considered problematic.

So it is probably not the case that abortion would be considered "wrong" within the context of their world. But it is interesting to me, nevertheless, and the alien-ness, as it were, of the Dune milieu is one of the nicest things about it.

Too often science fiction just takes modern men with modern concerns and modern prejudices and plops them in the 24th century or whatever. Even Perdido Street Station, which is considered one of the best modern works in the fantasy/science fiction/speculative fiction field (though I prefer the author's shorter stuff), features characters whose outlooks, concerns, and attitudes stike me as basically modern and middle-class, for all that some of them have beetles for heads and others have got stumpy wings. Well, and that all of them are poor, not middle-class. But I have wandered off topic.
4.6.2006 7:31pm
Taeyoung (mail):
That "prodential" should be "prudential." Guah!
4.6.2006 7:32pm
CharleyCarp (mail):
I'm kind of surprised no one has picked up BobH's thrown glove. Not that I would do so, as my experience is the same as his, with only one exception: I have in my office a single volume index of the first 50 issues of the Harvard Law Review. (That's from the 1880s to the 1930s). It's quite useful for quickly getting to the common law majority rule on any subject.
4.6.2006 9:26pm
Ken Arromdee (mail):
I think it has to do with the fact that the character in question, President Laura Roslin, was herself pro-abortion but changed her mind not because she because she came to agree with pro-lifers that the fetus is a person and deserves the protection of the law but merely as a means to an end of staving off the extinction of the human race.

Well, that's my point. If you oppose abortion because you think the fetus is a person, you have no reason to force children on woman who aren't pregnant. But if you oppose abortion because you want to prevent the human race from going extinct, you do indeed have such a reason.
4.7.2006 12:32am
Tom R (mail):
> "not because she because she came to agree with pro-lifers that the fetus is a person and deserves the protection of the law but merely as a means to an end of staving off the extinction of the human race."

And because, for some reason, these "f[o]etus" alien parasite thingies grow up to become fully-fledged humans. Who'da thunk it? Kill too many "f[o]etues", no "human persons" left. It must be some kind of interspecies symbiosis, like homo sapiens with Dax's Trill slug.
4.7.2006 1:30am
SenatorX (mail):
"Speaking of Dune, law is central to the plot of Frank Herbert's The Dosadi Experiment. The protagonist is a lawyer (among other things) who must defend his client in an alien courtroom where the loser, by popular acclaim, is killed. That would certainly cut down on frivolous filings."

Hey I just bought this book yesterday at a used book store! I am going to bump it up on my "next to read list".

Peter Wimsey,
Thanks for the belly laughs! That was a good way to start the morning.
4.7.2006 11:10am