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Federalism on Battlestar Galactica:

Jonah Goldberg and one of his readers consider an interesting constitutional federalism issue on Battlestar Galactica. One of the notable aspects of the show is the way constitutional and political economy issues are dealt with in at least a moderately sophisticated way. Far better than on most other TV shows, science fiction and otherwise - though that isn't a very high standard of comparison.

E. Conan McClelland:
Professor, some of us are just catching up on the DVDs and not watching the current season--maybe you can put a spoiler alert on the link?
2.20.2007 4:02pm
Cornellian (mail):
BSG is an amazingly good depiction of a world in which politics and economics matter, much as they do in any realistic world. One major economic problem with the Star Trek:TNG milieu is that society couldn't possibly resemble what it's portrayed as being if in fact everyone had access to unlimited energy and and the ability to manufacture any product from that energy, nor is political structure of society ever really explained or dealt with in any way. In BSG you have an elected president (well, sort of elected in that she replaces an elected leader according to a prescribed order of succession) with no physical power - the military leader has all of that. Yet the military leader can't just run things like a dictatorship - he tried that and realized he needed the cooperation of the civilian population and that cooperation wasn't forthcoming without the support of the president. Thus, many situations involve each of them thinking about the limits of their power and how far they can go without the support of the other. You also have scarcity and many episodes address how that scarcity is dealt with, either through rationing, black markets, inflated prices etc. Every series has its down moments, but all in all BSG is a great series that does a far better job of dealing with real world political and economic issues than virtually any other SF TV series ever has. It's a SF series which is not just fascinated with technology for its own sake, and that's a very rare thing.
2.20.2007 4:20pm
Houston Lawyer:
Since I have a securities practice, I liked the legal discussions in "Other People's Money". As I recall, it was dead on, which is more than I can say for a lot of speakers on the subject at CLE seminars.

I was a fan of the old BSG, but I decided not to watch the new one after they morphed Starbuck into a girl. I remember fondly my room mate watching the old series stoned and having great difficulty with the plot.
2.20.2007 4:23pm
Ilya Somin:
Professor, some of us are just catching up on the DVDs and not watching the current season--maybe you can put a spoiler alert on the link?

My post says nothing about the plot except that it relates to a federalism issue. Those who fear spoilers need not follow the link to the original post by Goldberg.
2.20.2007 4:26pm
Cornellian (mail):
Professor, some of us are just catching up on the DVDs and not watching the current season--maybe you can put a spoiler alert on the link?

My post says nothing about the plot except that it relates to a federalism issue. Those who fear spoilers need not follow the link to the original post by Goldberg.


But that's what the original poster was asking - he's not asking for a spoiler alert on your post, he's asking for a spoiler alert warning people who click on the link that it will take you to a page that does contain spoilers.
2.20.2007 4:39pm
Preferred Customer:
SPOILER ALERT, for all those who care.

There are lots of geeky law questions that could be raised by the plot conceit of BSG; one is certainly jurisdiction. When in interstellar space, what law applies?

This would not be a new issue to a space-faring race, but perhaps they have developed a legal system, through interplanetary commerce, that applies the laws of the planet whose vessel the individual is on to the conduct of an individual.

OK, that works as long as you have planet-flagged vessels trading back and forth between colonies. But what happens when you have a fleet of vessels from various different planets, and you have conduct by an individual that indirectly impacts all of the persons in the fleet *but does not occur on any of the vessels themselves?* The fact that Baltar committed some acts of treachery on "New Caprica," presumably under a regime that itself defined the acts that he committed as lawful, would raise a hard question. Moreover, we know that Baltar lived on Caprica, and presumably that his original treasonous conduct occurred there--but could other colonies have claimed jurisdiction over those acts, as well? Perhaps the systems he compromised were located throughout the colonies, not just on Caprica.

Moreover, there may be a more end-oriented justification for Roslin's question about where to try him. As with the DC snipers, she may be most concerned with where he can be tried most quickly and expeditiously.
2.20.2007 4:45pm
Preferred Customer:
And by "where" in the post above, I mean "under what law."
2.20.2007 4:46pm
Colin (mail):
But isn't someone who hasn't kept current on the series on notice that a discussion of the series is likely to contain spoilers? I've just started catching up on Rome on DVDs, and I certainly wouldn't click on a link to an article about "HBO's Historical Goofs" and expect it to be spoiler-free.

Houston,

I was skeptical about the new series, too. (More because of the changes to the Cylons than the change to Starbuck, who's relatively similar to the original character - just curvier and moodier.) It won me over pretty easily, but not with the miniseries. You might give the Season 1 DVDs a try.
2.20.2007 4:49pm
Cornellian (mail):
I wonder whether any of those legal questions would have meaning in a situation in which all the human inhabited planets had been destroyed or occupied by the enemy and the remainder of the human race consisted of just 40,000 people fleeing aboard a fleet of spaceships. I doubt a population of that size could realistically support any kind of judicial system that concerned itself with such things. More realistically, I suspect there'd be some kind of emergency executive order from the president dictating a single type of legal system, subject to amendment if and when whatever legislative body exists were to be elected and address the issue. What is effectively now a small town court system realistically can't spend its time getting hung up on choice of law problems between a dozen different worlds that no longer exist.
2.20.2007 4:50pm
Caliban Darklock (www):
I've always been of the opinion that if someone is "catching up" on the DVD release of a show, he should expect anyone and everyone discussing it to discuss recent episodes, and thus "spoilers" for shows he has not himself watched.

I would say that it's not everyone else's job to safeguard your ignorance when you're behind the times. It is your job to avoid the spoilers however you see fit, and if you come across some, it's your own fault.

But that's me.
2.20.2007 4:59pm
a scientist:
It seems to me that interplanetary government is not say like the US national government, but rather much more like the EU.

This would tend to solve many concerns regarding whether there would be one law for treason. There need not be, just as there is not one for the EU, yet there are many codes governing commercial activities--just like the EU.
2.20.2007 5:32pm
Matthew in Austin (mail):
I assumed that the federal government President Roslin inherited was far weaker than the American government. The 12 colonies in BSG aren't presented as being nearly as unified as our 50 states. I got the idea that it was more of a loose confederacy. Kinda of like what our country might have been without a Commerce Clause and a professional legislature.

So I think the incorrect assumption that you are making is that a Federal judicial branch even existed in BSG. I got the idea that each colony handled their own affairs. Trade issues could have been handled by individual treaty between colonies, and military issues handled solely within the military. So the issue of "treason" against the confederacy may have never come up before, and there may have been no federal way to handle it.

I have no trouble imagining a federal system with no federal judiciary. If the federal-level Constitution was small and simple enough, then no federal supreme court would be necessary for its interpretation, and the state's could handle the rest on their own.
2.20.2007 5:35pm
Ilya Somin:
I wonder whether any of those legal questions would have meaning in a situation in which all the human inhabited planets had been destroyed or occupied by the enemy and the remainder of the human race consisted of just 40,000 people fleeing aboard a fleet of spaceships.

By the time this issue comes up, the fleet has already been in space for several years, and the survivors have had time to think about establishing permanent institutions of government. Especially given that they intend to settle on a new planet at some point, and greatly increase their numbers, it would make sense for them to establish (or, in part, reestablish) an appropriate constitutional framework.

As for the planets being dead, true they are. But the ethnic divisions that gave rise to interplanetary federalism before still exist, even if the planets themselves are no longer inhabited by humans.
2.20.2007 5:38pm
Jay Reding (mail) (www):
The Articles of Colonization are designed to be analogous to the Articles of Confederation, as 52 years before the Cylon holocaust the Colonies were 12 separate governments, sometimes even governments hostile to each other.

The problem with that is that I rather doubt one can square that issue of federalism with a central government that has a Department of Education. Furthermore, the idea that nobody's sure what legal code is applicable to Baltar seems odd when we've had frequent appeals to "Colonial law" over the last few years.

I get the feeling that the producers are just looking for an excuse to advance the upcoming Baltar trial plot rather than considering the ramifications of the Colonial system of federalism.
2.20.2007 5:48pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
I would think that since Baltar's initial alleged crimes in the miniseries occurred on Caprica, he would be subject to their jurisdiction and/or whatever applicable Colonial laws apply. In the miniseries he told Caprica Six that he "probable broke about twenty statutes" when he gave her access to the defense mainframe.

With regards to providing Gina with the nuke used to destroy the Rising Star, it depends on how a civilian would/could be prosecuted for the theft of military weapon. I'm assuming that there is probably some Colonial statute that applies or perhaps he could be prosecuted under military law since his crimes would have occurred on either the Pegasus or Galactica.

Finally, as far as the alleged collaboration on New Caprica, unless there was an off-screen exception that we didn't see, wouldn't Baltar be covered under Rosalyn's amnesty order? Of course, that might not cover any collaboration that occurred after they left New Caprica when he was aboard the basestar or on the Algae Planet. Considering that pre-amnesty, collaborators were dealt with by the Circle which was created under the constitutional authority of the Colonial President, that suggests that collaborating with the enemy is probably covered by Colonial law.
2.20.2007 6:05pm
Cornellian (mail):
The Articles of Colonization are designed to be analogous to the Articles of Confederation, as 52 years before the Cylon holocaust the Colonies were 12 separate governments, sometimes even governments hostile to each other.

The problem with that is that I rather doubt one can square that issue of federalism with a central government that has a Department of Education.


Two two don't strike me as irreconcilable. It's entirely possible to have a very loose, Articles of Confederation style federal government, yet still have a federal department of education. I can think of two scenarios where this could happen. First, a political decision has been made at some point, for whatever reason, to draft Articles that give the federal government jurisdiction over education in what is otherwise a very loose confederation. The other possibility is that the federal department of education is just a coordinating body that proposes standards, acts as a resource center etc., leaving each planet free to do as it wishes.
2.20.2007 6:06pm
Cornellian (mail):
Furthermore, the idea that nobody's sure what legal code is applicable to Baltar seems odd when we've had frequent appeals to "Colonial law" over the last few years.

If one thinks back to the early years of our Republic, a great many legal issues that are considered no-brainer obvious today were unsettled back then, e.g. that the Supreme Court had cert jurisdiction over state supreme courts (Martin v. Hunter's Lessee), that interstate commerce included a ferry service between two states (Gibbons v. Ogden), that suing on a state claim in federal court means the federal court has to apply the state's law, not federal common law (Erie RR v Tompkins) to cite just three of many examples. Depending on how old the Articles are in BSG, and how many opportunities the courts have had to interpret them, it's quite plausible that there may have been a federal "Colonial law", yet also confusion about which law and which jurisdiction applies to a particular situation. Plus treason doesn't come up that often so it's not like the courts would have had many opportunities to consider the question.
2.20.2007 6:11pm
Cornellian (mail):
With regards to providing Gina with the nuke used to destroy the Rising Star, it depends on how a civilian would/could be prosecuted for the theft of military weapon.

Quite an interesting question, assuming they have criminal laws more or less similar to our own. I think a great deal turns on Baltar's state of mind in handing over the nuke. It might be murder if Baltar knows she's going to detonate it on a ship or hands it over with reckless disregard as to that possibility. If he only suspects that might happen, falling short of reckless, that's a tougher call. Knowing what he knows, it seems inconceivable that his intent could fall any lower than this level. He knows she's a Cylon with every reason to hate humanity, so he's got to at least have a strong suspicion that the nuke is going to be used.

As for Number 6, it's not clear that Cylons can be charged with anything, given that they're machines.
2.20.2007 6:17pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Plus treason doesn't come up that often so it's not like the courts would have had many opportunities to consider the question.


But since treason requires that the Defendant have some sort of prior allegiance to the government against whom he is accused of betraying, that at least narrows it down between Caprican and Colonial law (unless he could be prosecuted for treason against both).

One thing I'm kind of curious about though is when Adama gave Lee his grandfather's law books*, are we supposed to believe that this going to be their source for Caprican law? It's certainly better than nothing but they've got to be at least a couple of decades out of date. One thought struck me though; we have about 2 million lawyers in the United States out of about 300 million people. Had the Colonial survivors been proportional to the demographics in the United States, out of 40,000 plus survivors, they would have had least 260 lawyers in the fleet.

* Like we all didn't see that one coming a lightyahren away ;)
2.20.2007 6:29pm
Colin (mail):
With regards to providing Gina with the nuke used to destroy the Rising Star...

Will that be one of the charges? I can't remember if the authorities are aware of Baltar's role in that incident. Even if they are, I doubt the writers will make a big deal of it. Baltar's actions on New Caprica provide more meat for a dramatic and morally ambiguous trial.

As for Number 6, it's not clear that Cylons can be charged with anything, given that they're machines.

The precedent so far is for extrajudicial, summary executions and punitive rape. It would raise an interesting problem, though; is being a Cylon an indictable offense? If not, they'd have to prove not just that a Number 6 committed a particular offense, but that the defendant is the specific lineage or iteration responsible. They could only do that through the collaborating Cylon's testimony, and she's arguably a co-conspirator.

(Under the Guidelines, though, I suppose Hera has accepted responsibility and offered substantial assistance to the authorities, making her a shoo-in for a 5K1.1 letter.)
2.20.2007 6:32pm
Kovarsky (mail):
this is clearly the best title for a post in this millenium.
2.20.2007 6:32pm
Cornellian (mail):
The precedent so far is for extrajudicial, summary executions and punitive rape. It would raise an interesting problem, though; is being a Cylon an indictable offense? If not, they'd have to prove not just that a Number 6 committed a particular offense, but that the defendant is the specific lineage or iteration responsible.

That raises an even more interesting question. Supposing one concludes that a Cylon, despite being non-human, is a legal entity capable of being charged with a criminal offense (if a corporation can be, a Cylon can't be too much of a stretch). Suppose that Cylon is charged with murder but dies before trial. Do the charges carry over to the new body? Does the new body have to be charged as a separate person? Does the new body bear any responsibility at all for what happened, and if not, does that mean a Cylon can get out of any charge by committing suicide? If the new body is responsible for what the old body did, suppose the Cylon's consciousness (such as it is) is copied into two new bodies, instead of just one. What consequence for the criminal charge originally levied against the Cylon when it was in the old body?
2.20.2007 6:49pm
Just Dropping By (mail):
"As for Number 6, it's not clear that Cylons can be charged with anything, given that they're machines."

Although the Colonials have been dealing summarily with Cylon infiltrators (Doral was marooned on Ragnar Station, Leoban and the two Brothers Cavil were spaced), their "machine" legal status is questionable in light of Adama's decision to restore Sharon/Athena to the rank of lieutenant. It would seem very odd to say that someone could be a military officer (whose orders presumably have to be obeyed by subordinates) and yet not have legal status as a "person" for other purposes.
2.20.2007 7:42pm
Colin (mail):
Cornellian,

I think the body replacement would be the legal equivalent of an organ transplant. The culpable entity is the personality, its memories and motivations, not the tissue carrying that personality. The difficulty would be proving that the particular corpus before the court is the one charged in the indictment.

JDB,

Maybe she's provisionally, legally human?
2.20.2007 8:26pm
Deskmerc (mail) (www):
You know, I've always wondered if volokh.com would post more on scifi and issues of the law, but instead of BSG, I'm curious as to the opinion of legal matters raised in the series Stargate SG-1, which features all sorts of activity by the executive branch that would obviously be unconstitutional, such as making treaties with other planets and races (without Senate ratification?) covert actions against Goa'uld possessed citizens of the US, violations of Congress' intelligence oversight, all manner of stuff. What makes it all niftier is that the Air Force and DOD love the series.
2.20.2007 8:45pm
Cornellian (mail):
which features all sorts of activity by the executive branch that would obviously be unconstitutional, such as making treaties with other planets and races (without Senate ratification?) covert actions against Goa'uld possessed citizens of the US, violations of Congress' intelligence oversight, all manner of stuff.

Actually it's perfectly constitutional for the President to sign a treaty and not get Senate ratification - happens all the time. It just means without Senate ratification, the treaty doesn't form part of the domestic law of the US.
2.20.2007 8:50pm
Cornellian (mail):
Although the Colonials have been dealing summarily with Cylon infiltrators (Doral was marooned on Ragnar Station, Leoban and the two Brothers Cavil were spaced), their "machine" legal status is questionable in light of Adama's decision to restore Sharon/Athena to the rank of lieutenant.

That's a theme that actually did get explored in Star Trek: TNG in the form of Lt. Cmdr. Data, who achieved his rank in Starfleet despite his status as a person being somewhat of an open question. I'm not sure that Adama's making Sharon a lieutenant necessarily means she or any other Cylon is necessarily a person for other legal purposes. However, if she's not, one wonder what effect that has on the obligation of her subordinates to obey her orders. It's largely moot since everyone knows Adama is backing her up, but it's still an interesting point.
2.20.2007 8:53pm
Cornellian (mail):
And speaking of Sharon/Boomer, that reminds of a group photo of the BSG cast that appeared in Entertainment Weekly a few months back. Sharon is wearing a short skirt, high black boots, tight top and leaning backwards against something (looked like an oil drum) in the docking bay. The joke at the time, as I recall, was that it should have been obvious she had to be a Cylon because a regular human female would have been very unlikely to have such an amazing body.
2.20.2007 8:57pm
Mark Draughn (mail) (www):
Baltar gave away the nuke before the decision to settle on New Caprica, and therefore before he had the backing of the Cylons. If anyone had found out he was responsible, he could easily have been removed from office. Therefore no one found out.
2.20.2007 9:00pm
David W. Hess (mail):
Cornellian:
Suppose that Cylon is charged with murder but dies before trial. Do the charges carry over to the new body? Does the new body have to be charged as a separate person? Does the new body bear any responsibility at all for what happened, and if not, does that mean a Cylon can get out of any charge by committing suicide? If the new body is responsible for what the old body did, suppose the Cylon's consciousness (such as it is) is copied into two new bodies, instead of just one. What consequence for the criminal charge originally levied against the Cylon when it was in the old body?

This may be somewhat off topic however your post reminds me of Larry Niven's essay "The Theory and Practice of Teleportation":
. . . Let's say we've reached step one. We've recorded our customer and we now have a record and a ball of ionised plasma. Why not beam the record to two receivers? Now we've got a duplicator. The legalities get sticky. We could get around them by permitting one, say, one Isaac Asmimov to a planet; but who gets the royalties on the Foundation trilogy?
Similarly, you can keep the record. You fire the signal at the receiver, but you store the tape. Ten years later the passenger walks in front of a bus. You can recreate him from tape, minus ten years of his life. But - aside from questions concerning his soul - can he collect his own life insurance?
Suppose we change our mind after step one. We store the tape instead of firing it. Is it kidnapping? Or, in view of the fact that we have mortally vaporized a man, is it murder? Does it cease to be murder if we reconstitute him before the trial?
Finally,we assume an advance whereby we needn't destroy the model to get the record. Shouldn't we destroy him anyway? Otherwise he hasn't gone anywhere.
2.20.2007 9:10pm
Cornellian (mail):
This may be somewhat off topic however your post reminds me of Larry Niven's essay "The Theory and Practice of Teleportation":

Even better coverage of the issue can be found in "The Physics of Star Trek", which looks at teleportation in some detail, and asks why the person who appears at the destination should be considered the same person who disappeared from the starting point.
2.20.2007 10:03pm
Pub Editor:
I basically agree with everything that Cornellian has said, especially the first post.

I imagine the Colonial Government had to be much more extensive than the government under the U.S. Articles of Confederation. (1) They have a permanent, standing military. (2) Not only do they have a Dept. of Education; they have such an extensive beaureucracy and so many federal departments that the Secretary of Education is 34th in line for the presidency (in the U.S., the Secretary of Education is 14th in line, between #13 Secretary of Transportation and #15 Secretary of Veterans Affairs; 3 U.S.C. 19).

Given a standing military, the Colonies must have some equivalent to the UCMJ, though Baltar presumably would not fall within its scope. However, when Col. Tigh and the Circle were throwing people out of airlocks, a common charge was "collaberating with the enemy." This seems to presuppose some form of federal treason (perhaps in addition to treason against one's native planet).

Perhaps the debate is over whether Baltar violated specific provisions of Caprican law or Sagitarron law in addition to his general treason. A thornier question, which Thorley Winston raised above, is whether Roslin's general amnesty embraced Baltar. If Roslin knew that Baltar was alive at that time (I think as of that episode people in the fleet assumed he was dead), I can imagine her making an exception for Baltar. Perhaps they could argue that the amnesty only applied to people who were with the fleet at the time Roslin promulgated the amnesty, and Baltar missed his window for absolution.

It seems like the colonists would have drawn up a new constitution when they settled on New Caprica (like the Mayflower Compact), but there is no indication of such a move in the show.

With the exception of Sharon/Athena, Cylons seem to have no more status under Colonial law than a calculator or... well, a toaster. They are machines and enjoy no rights under human law. But this is speculation. Perhaps there is some document that confers "humanity" (like citizenship) upon Sharon.

Anyway, great show!
2.20.2007 10:46pm
David W. Hess (mail):
Niven's essay actually covers 3 other forms of teleportation where Star Trek's system inconsistently behaves like 2 different systems depending on the episode and the plot complication desired by the writers. I quoted the one that seemed to apply most to the death of a cylon which apparently is akin to copying a program from one location to another with (optional?) destruction of the original.

As an aside, like the criticisms about Star Trek Federation economics compared to BSG Colonial economics, with the exception of Enterprise I have always found the none use of Star Trek transporter technology and boarding parties in warfare extremely weak. To paraphrase Larry Niven, if a transmitter is not required we can now steal anything from anywhere in safety. If a receiver is not required we can put a bomb anywhere. If neither is required, we get a short war until a pre-teleport level of technology is achieved.

Unfortunately we do not know enough details to be sure but the existence of apparently viable offspring from Sharon and Helo suggests that, except for lacking parents, cylons are the same species as humans. Would this have legal implications if a defendant despite their cylon origin fit the biological definition for Homo Sapiens?

P.S. I was going to follow up with something like the above in my earlier post but hit POST instead of PREVIEW accidentally.
2.20.2007 10:51pm
David W. Hess (mail):
Pub Editor:
Perhaps there is some document that confers "humanity" (like citizenship) upon Sharon.

I did not see your post until after I was done but my comment about Sharon being demonstratively the same species as the colonials by virtue of having viable offspring with Helo was fortuitous. Baltar's test to distinguish cylons from humans need be no more complicated then testing for specific genotypes that yield characterists we would normally ascribe to race.
2.20.2007 11:07pm
Cornellian (mail):
Unfortunately we do not know enough details to be sure but the existence of apparently viable offspring from Sharon and Helo suggests that, except for lacking parents, cylons are the same species as humans.

I'm not sure if that's the biological definition of "same species." They're certainly not genetically or physically identical to humans - no human can stick a wire into his arm and thereby send out an electronic signal that disables an attacking squadron. We also don't know how viable the offspring is. We know the infant is alive, but we don't know anything about it, whether it suffers from some kind of genetic defects, whether it's sterile etc.

Of course, this scenario starts edging very close to the philosophical question of what it means to be human. If I can construct something that looks human and acts human enough to be able to deceive people into thinking that it is human (a sort of super-Turing test), at what point does the deception become so capable and so enduring that people will say that this construct is, in fact, human.
2.20.2007 11:45pm
dvorak:
Suppose an airplane crashes on an island that was not claimed by any nation. Further suppose that an American survivor of the crash kills a German, a Mexican, a Russian and an Iranian.

Wouldn't Germany, Mexico, Russia and Iran want the American to stand trial in their courts? Isn't this why there is a legal question of who can try Baltar?
2.21.2007 12:32am
Cornellian (mail):
In your scenario dvorak I would think the American would be facing murder charges in each of the countries of his victims, assuming they have laws prohibiting extra-territorial murder of their citizens. They can all try him, so the real question is who can try him first, as they're the ones who will get to hold on to him assuming he's convicted. In a civil case, you'd also have to separate the question of which court gets to hear the case from the question of which law would apply, so you might get a German court applying Mexican law, and that sort of thing.
2.21.2007 12:44am
Dave Wangen (mail):
"I imagine the Colonial Government had to be much more extensive than the government under the U.S. Articles of Confederation. (1) They have a permanent, standing military. (2) Not only do they have a Dept. of Education; they have such an extensive beaureucracy and so many federal departments that the Secretary of Education is 34th in line for the presidency"

Actually, a much weaker Federal government actually provides a certain justification for Roslin being so far back in the succession. Imagine where the US Sec of Education would be if every State's Governor and Lt Governor came before them in the line....

I can certainly imagine a Colonial government where the heads of state for the individual colonies, and maybe even their representatives in the Quorum of Twelve (assuming those aren't the same people), come before the cabinet officials in the succession. (Now, how to rank those heads of state, so as not to put one colony above another, THAT would be tricky. Maybe by time-in-service of the individual.)
2.21.2007 12:52am
Cornellian (mail):
Another explanation for Roslin being so far down the line of succession is that the federal cabinet, concerned with 12 worlds instead of just part of one world (like here in the US) had a relatively large number of Cabinet Secretaries with relatively narrow responsibilities.
2.21.2007 12:59am
jim:
The case of Baltar isn't the first appearance of this issue. Remember the abortion episode and the Geminese woman. There is question as to whether Geminese law applies, or if "colonial law" applies. I use that term in quotes because it seemd unclear if Roslin meant that it was legal in federal jurisdiction itself, or just in some of the colonies.

Interestingly the Geminese representative refers to the girl as being the property of her parents. The obvious parallel is with Dred Scott, where it was clear that slavery was a fully legal product of State Law, but where people still debate to what extent the antibellum federal government recognized, allowed, or forbid the practice, and to what extent it was given the power to follow up on whatever its responsibilities on the issue were.

I had assumed that the fleet was operating under a mix of the legal fiction that the refugees were still on their respective home planets, and the legal fiction that certain ships represented certain planets. This obviously doesn't work so well, when people have to keep changing ships based on whatever disaster is occurring, and when they are sometimes on military vessels that seem to operate under federal jurisdiction.

Counter to this, it seems like the President of the colonies either has, or is claiming, very broad executive power. Roslin unilaterally declares abortion illegal. Zarrick suspends due process and it is unclear that people think he is overstepping his bounds. Sure Roslin says you can't do that, but it is unclear whether she says that out of political principles, or if the office is genuinely crafted so that it has meaningful restrictions on it under such extraordinary circumstances.

Another question that arises is this, what are their legal circumstances. Admiral Cain refers to their situation as "detached service", but if that is the case, the entire body of the human race resides within detached service.
2.21.2007 3:21am
Cornellian (mail):
What would be the authority of the President of the United States if the US were completely destroyed, and only about 40,000 Americans remained, all of whom were on a fleet of about 100 space ships looking for a new home? There would be no states to cast electoral college votes, no congressmen, no senators, no governors to appoint interim congressmen and senators, no federal judges (well one or two may have survived as they're spread out over the country) no voting machinery in place, no rules for what happens, e.g. to Oregon's electoral college votes if no one among the 40,000 is from Oregon, no rules for what constitutes interstate commerce when there are no states, no rules for what happens to military funding if there's no Congress to vote on a new budget, no rules for how one could elect a new Congress when there are no Congressional districts. I think those remaining 40,000 would have to operate under some ill defined Presidential authority until they have the opportunity to sit down and frame a new Constitution reflective of their new circumstances.
2.21.2007 3:52am
Francis Burdett (mail):
quote Thorley Winston:

One thought struck me though; we have about 2 million lawyers in the United States out of about 300 million people. Had the Colonial survivors been proportional to the demographics in the United States, out of 40,000 plus survivors, they would have had least 260 lawyers in the fleet.

Scene: smoldering Caprica post-Apocalypse

"Halt!!" "You three Back away!" "Now!" "We only room for two more survivors on the shuttle" "You there, What is your job?" Insurance fraud "OK and you?" I gamble on daggit racing and with a sideline in geriatric pornography "OK Pal, what do _you_ do?" Why Sergeant, I just made partner at Caprica City's largest law firm.....


Hmm maybe there might be something less than 260 lawyers in the Rag Tag Fleet :-)
2.21.2007 3:50pm
Tom R (mail):
> "Now, how to rank those heads of state, so as not to put one colony above another, THAT would be tricky. Maybe by time-in-service of the individual."

Here in Australia, where the Governor-General is (very roughly) the US President's constitutional equivalent, there is no Vice-President but instead the Aust Const authorises the GG to appoint deputies or "Administrators" to serve in the GG's absence. The usual practice is for the GG to proclaim a standing authorisation in advance for the six State Governors to serve as Administrators, and they queue in order of length of service in that office.

For example, in the interregnum a few years ago after Archbishop (don't ask) Peter Hollingworth stepped down and before Major-General (okay, as you've guessed, this is not like Canada) Mike Jeffrey was appointed, the longest-serving State Governor was Sir Guy Green of Tasmania (the smallest State). A US equivalent would be Hawaii's or Alaska's Gov serving as Acting President. (Not quite precisely since Governors [-General] in Australia are not active political leaders but instead have a role that, in US terms, combines those of Vice-President, First Lady, Chief Justice and Senate President Pro Tem with the formal duties of the President as Head of State).

Of course, "length of service" probably wouldn't cull the field when a dozen or so Governors were all first elected on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in the previous leap year. OTOH, "most populous State" would be resisted also by the smaller States (and Schwarzenegger can't be Acting President until the Thirtieth Amendment is ratified), and "oldest Governor" would be arbitrary ("Acting President Thurmond" was scary enough).

Maybe better to put all the Colonies on a roster/ rota and rotate them every Colonial Day - ie, bump the topmost one to the bottom and bump each other colony up one. If the President vacates, the Governor or Quorum delegate from the topmost-named Colony gets the sash. (Or you could base it on which house of the zodiac the sun was in at the precise time the Presidency was vacated...)
2.21.2007 6:09pm
Tom R (mail):
Whether the Colonial [(con)federal *] government is loose or centralised depends on how you weight a number of factors that, here on the Thirteenth Colony, we use to classify systems as "(con)federal" or "unitary", with cases like India, post-1994 South Africa, and post-19992 European Union being hard-to-classify chimaeras.

On one hand, note that the presidential race between Baltar and Roslin is a winner-take-all, at large contest (presumably first past the post since Zarek drops out so as not to split Baltar's vote). No electoral college, or voting by comitia, or other devices that can defeat the candidate with most votes overall. (Well, apart from a paternalistic, "democracy-preserving" military coup a la Turkey, but that's an extra-constitutional check...)

On the other, the only legislature we see, the Qot12, is not population-based at all. It seems clear that some Colonies are more powerful (and therefore presumably more populous) than others: Caprica is the NY or California of the league, while Sagitara "was expploited" by the other Colonies (the reason for Zarek's Leonard Peltier-type grievance).

But on the other hand, Pres Baltar, prodded awake from his night of Joe Quimbyish roistering by his vigilant CoS Gaeta (Hmmm... a Juliani in the Presidential office?), whines about his troubles with the "People's Assembly" or "Popular Assembly", so maybe there was some body with representation per capita rather than per stirpes.

Ron Moore stated somewhere that he and his writing team had provisionally viewed the Quorum as something like the US Senate crossed with the UN Security Council - a quasi-executive, quasi-legislative council. (Note that the US Senate of course has some quasi-executive powers - approving appointments and treaties - and that, with only 26 members at the Founding, it was smaller than most countries' Cabinets today.)

Using Colonies as separate electoral districts makes sense when the populace lives on separate planets or even (as noted above) on separate spaceships, but continuing to use Colonies as separate electoral districts when everyone's living in tents on a single mud-flat around a grounded spaceship would seem to take originalism past the point even Robert Borg, sorry, Bork would accept.
2.21.2007 9:38pm
Tom R (mail):
> Whether the Colonial [(con)federal *] government

* Meant to add: "Colonial" is quite ambiguous in BSG, as it can mean "of all the Colonies collectively" or "of an individual Colony". If a character had said "Abortion/ treason by a Caprican citizen is governed by Colonial law", it would be a 50-50 toss-up which was meant. At least Firefly/ Serenity makes it clearer by talking about "the Feds".
2.21.2007 9:42pm