The Law & The Final Frontier


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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59 Responses

  1. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    One could simply say that the law code of the Federation is so clear and concise that it does not require a person with specialized training to navigate or argue it.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      This seems compelling to me. The characters seem to constantly be judging and applying a kind of implied law of the Federation civilization. I would also say that it is implied that the Vulcan superiority of intellect is always hanging over officers’ actions like a moral sword of Damocles. It seems as if the officers of the Federation are pretty much boxed in by their training in Star Fleet, the dictates of which they seem to hold each other tightly accountable to, and that awareness of a higher intellect overseeing their actions. (That could just be the Kirk-Spock dynamic, but then that is replicated throughout all the iterations of the franchise.)Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Or conversely (obversely?) every Federation officer is a lawyer the same way every Marine is a rifleman.Report

    • But I can imagine some prime directive absolutist saying, “what part of ‘shall not interfere’ don’t you understand?”Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to gabriel conroy says:

        B-but, the mere act of reaching out and making contact, IS interfering!Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          We will make an intergalactic lawyer out of you yet.

          I think Star Trek always defined interfering as getting involved with the goings on of a planet. Like if you arrive during a war, your not supposed to pick sides or aid refugees. Your just supposed to make contact, sit back, and relax as the slaughter goes on bellow. Likewise, if a society seems to be at the medieval level or have problematic aspects, your not supposed to guide them to enlightenment.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to LeeEsq says:

            IIRC, the Prime Directive only applied to societies/peoples/planets who had not yet achieved space flight. Once they put something in a stable orbit, First Contact protocols ruled.Report

  2. Avatar greginak says:

    Meh. There is a long fan tradition of “why doesn’t star trek have ( some example of everything we have today)? I think it all comes down to who and what the show wants to show in very limited time. It could be interesting to look at different systems of law in various species. What little we know of Cardassian law isn’t all that pleasant. But that is a different show with writers with different interests.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    What Greg said. Most Star Trek viewers do not want to watch an episode of any series where a lawyer patiently explains to the crew why they can’t do this amazingly cool thing without some serious legal repercussions. A realistic approach to intergalactic exploration and first encounters with alien species would make for some boring television to everybody but the most nerdy members.

    Most space exploration shows from Star Trek to the new Lost in Space seem to avoid dealing with issues of governance or lawyers. In the new Lost in Space, they even refer to their being no lawyers or judges even though lawyers and judges would be really important for rebuilding civilization. We are uncool as a profession.Report

  4. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Now its in my head as canon that Leonard McCoy is the great x 7 or 8 grandson of Jack McCoy. The famous NYC district attorney’s grandson moved to Georgia for Second Reconstruction after the Eugenics Wars, married a local woman, and those McCoys had been in Atlanta ever since.Report

  5. Avatar George Turner says:

    In the future in Star Trek, they don’t use money. Lawyers don’t work pro bono all the time, and that’s why there aren’t any lawyers.Report

  6. Avatar PD Shaw says:

    The original series was supposed to be a “Wagon Train” to the stars, an update on exploring the frontier. Lawyers come after the frontier is settled.

    Also early on Spock is subject to a court-martial (in the two-part Menagerie which incorporated the first pilot) and IIRC Kirk exercises the right to act both as Spock’s attorney and serve on the jury panel because there were insufficient number of officers superior to Spock available. So basically, this is a system of military justice, often employed in an ad hoc basis because of remoteness.Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to PD Shaw says:

      Also in the first season, the episode “Court Martial” features the trial of Captain Kirk at a starbase (the border of civilization) in which he is represented by an attorney that appears to ride a circuit.

      IIRC Kirk is on trial because a discrepancy between his description of his actions he logged-in, and the computer records of what happened. This is a highly bureaucratized world, where everything is recorded and discrepancies can be the subject of military justice. High deterrence factor. But in this episode the computer had been tampered with.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to PD Shaw says:

      Another model for TOS was Horatio Hornblower. The first episode with the Romulans is a clear copy of a chapter in Hornblower and the Hotspur. The Hornblower books have the occasional court martial, but there are no formally trained lawyers involved. They are all random officers of suitable rankReport

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to PD Shaw says:

      “Sir, we’ve received a distress call from the frontier outpost Omega 13; They are asking us to send lawyers, guns, and money!
      Apparently something has hit their fan.”Report

  7. Avatar Van_Owen says:

    There is a highly-regarded episode of TNG called “The Measure of a Man” that revolves around a trial. I’ve actually only seen a few episodes of TNG, but some friends who are enthusiastic fans showed me this one as an example of the show at it’s best. SPOILERS AHEAD.

    In the episode, Data, a lieutenant commander who is also an android, is approached by a federation scientist. Data is a uniquely advanced android and the secrets of his construction died with his creator. The scientist wants to study Data to learn more about how to build advanced androids. However, this will require disassembling and killing Data. Data and the crew object, and a local space Admiral or whatever orders a trial to determine if Data is a person with rights or a piece of equipment that can be commandeered for study by the Federation, with herself serving as the Judge.

    It’s a compelling episode, lots of Picard and Riker (his XO) making empassioned speeches. But my big takeaway was that the Federation’s legal system is absurd.

    First, the Admiral insists that Riker serve as the advocate for the Federation’s position. He protests, saying that he thinks Data is a person and is not comfortable doing that, and the Admiral responds by threatening to summarily find against Data if Riker won’t participate. That’s a pretty terrible legal practice.

    Second, it’s just bizarre that Data has a rank (people refer to him as Lt Commander) and can apparently order red shirts around, but is still up for dissection. It’s just odd, and even the people who want to take him apart don’t seem to feel the need to comment on his actual rank and service.

    Finally, there also just doesn’t seem to be much in the way of legal references, it’s just the two advocates making moral philosophy arguments, and eventually they persuade the Admiral that Data should be spared. Neither side seems to have legal background, but ultimately Patrick Stewart is the better rhetorician.

    I’m not expecting great legal verisimilitude, and it’s still miles ahead of the absurd attempts to portray actual courtroom practice in so many programs. But it really did not make the Federation seem like a place that values the rule of law. That said, good Sci Fi episode, definitely enjoyed the themes of what it means to be human and all that.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Van_Owen says:

      The Federation is still a military unit and JAG officers unlike civilian DAs and Public Defenders do switch from arguing for the prosecution and defense fairly frequently IIRC.

      But yeah, it would be a massive conflict of interest for Riker to argue for the Federation. Why would they even want him to do it.Report

      • Avatar Van_Owen in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Honestly the part that most appalled me is the judge threatening to summarily find against (and execute) Data if Riker refuses.

        I actually am a big admirer of the JAG defense/prosecution switch. I’ve read some interesting proposals about applying a similar system to civilian criminal law by merging PDs and prosecutors into one office. Disrupt factional mindsets and try to solve the inadequate funding issues.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Van_Owen says:

          It amazes me that we haven’t done this, except that there are enough noisy people out there who just hate the idea of a certain class of defendants being permitted access to adequate legal representation on the taxpayer dime.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Yeah, in a post-scarcity society, the arguments over property become arguments over things that cannot be reproduced.

    And how many of those things are there really? There’s Data (as mentioned above)… and… um… even the Enterprise gets blowed up and replaced periodically.

    If we got rid of every legal case in the US that would be fixed by having ubiquitous replicators and transporters… how many legal cases would remain? (This is an honest question. I’m going through stuff in my head and I’m not coming up with anything that doesn’t melt away.)Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:

      Did we post-scarcity sex?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

      Marchmaine does get me to think that we’d probably still need divorce lawyers for issues of custody of the kids.

      But transporters alleviate a lot of stuff related to custody. And replicators alleviate a lot of the issues related to money worries being the biggest reason for marriages ending in the first place.

      But, yeah, we’d need divorce lawyers for custody cases.Report

      • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

        Just imagine the custody battles when a transporter accident splits a kid in two and the parents fight over who gets custody of the good copy and who gets custody of the evil copy!Report

      • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Jaybird says:

        I think one of the reasons that Americans have some many lawyers relative to other OECD countries is the extent to which policy is made by the administrative state versus individual circumstances. You need more lawyers if outcomes are to be optimized individually. I can see the Federation deciding that the optimal outcome for children is 50% of the time with each parent, and that is that. And it’s easier if there is a large social state that mostly raises the kids anyway.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to PD Shaw says:

          And it’s easier if there is a large social state that mostly raises the kids anyway.

          How many kids were on the show?

          There was Wesley (God bless him) and there was Jake Sisko and his little buddy Nog.

          Were there any others?

          (I got the feeling that however kids were accustomed to being raised in the Federation, it’s wasn’t Kibbutz-style.)Report

          • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Jaybird says:

            I recall teacher telling Worf his son was having trouble adjusting with the other kids on possibly more than one episode, but I wasn’t really a fan of TNG.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to PD Shaw says:

              OH YEAH ALEXANDER!

              (Now there’s an additional point where we can argue the extent to which Life On The Enterprise mirrors Earth. I think if I felt like arguing anything, I’d want to argue that The Enterprise cannot be assumed to be representative of anything at all while DS9 probably comes closest to how Humans in the Federation do stuff these days.)Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Jaybird says:

      There is no such thing as a true, post-scarcity, you can have anything, society because many things are only valuable because supplies are limited. For example, does everyone get a genuine, original copy of the Magna Carta, or does that stay stuck in a museum? How many genuine Babe Ruth rookie cards do they get? Does everyone get a fabulous house overlooking Star Fleet Academy and the Golden Gate Bridge? Why doesn’t everyone have their own Federation star ship?

      The replicator is like a Xerox machine or Adobe Acrobat. It makes it easier to copy things, but it doesn’t make scarcity go away.Report

  9. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Now I see it’s been covered (it just occured to me); there’s probably at least a half dozen episodes between TOS & TNG that are essentially Star Trek : Law & Order. The ones I can think of off hand (but have to look up the titles) are The Menagerie, Justice, Measure of a Man (as Van Owen mentions above)Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Kolohe says:

      Don’t forget about all the episodes that are about non-Federation law. How many times does a crew member break a law on a new planet, or interplanetary negotiations turn on the interpretation of a phrase? Half of the impassioned speeches delivered by the captains at the 45-minute mark are in some respect closing arguments.

      ETA: For that matter, you could argue that the entire TNG was an extended trial overseen by Q.Report

  10. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    By the way, “The Orville” episode, ‘About a Girl’, fits into this discussion rather nicely.Report