Star Trek's influence goes way beyond die-hard science fiction fans. The saga of Starfleet has influenced how we think about ethics, morality and the nature of civilization. Time and again, when sitting judges reach for a great metaphor, they mention the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.
Here are eight different ways that judges have quoted from Star Trek in their rulings, and what we can learn from them.
1) Our judicial system aspires to be Vulcan, not human or Klingon
Jones v. South Jersey Industries, Inc., 2011 WL 3802243, 13 (N.J.Super.A.D. 2011) (The Court is providing a jury instruction to counter any passion aroused by a witness's outburst)
"Your role is to determine fact[s]. Nobody can tell you what to do in that area. That's entirely your decision. If you get to the issue of damages, I will instruct you as follows: number one, you should determine not only that portion of the case but all [of] this portion of the case without using bias or prejudice; in other words, we want you to be-and I'm going to date myself a little bit by saying this. Do you remember Star Trek, the original one with Mr. Spock? Mr. Spock could look at things totally logical. He was not influenced by passion. He certainly wasn't influenced by prejudice, and that's … how you need to look at a case. You need to look at a case for the facts as you see them. You need to look at the case for the law. You apply the facts to the law, and that's how you come up with a decision. You don't allow sympathy to enter into your decision."
Jackson v. Harrington, 2011 WL 7143189, 21 (C.D.Cal. 2011)
(The Court is discussing with a prospective juror the juror's ability to be objective)
The court: Yes. I understand. And I'm emotional. I understand that, too. Were you a fan of Star Trek?… And you said McCoy, the doctor who was so emotional who just ran off the wall at the drop of a hat whenever something emotional would occur. And you had Spock always standing there, placidly not affected at all by the emotion of the situation. And that's what we want in this case. We understand that it's not easy. It's not easy. But to the extent that you possibly could dedicate yourself to doing exactly that, in other words in being fair, you don't say, well, I'll be fair to the People."
2) Everyone loves The Wrath of Khan and Spock's sacrifice:
South Yuba River Citizens League v. National Marine Fisheries Service, 804 F.Supp.2d 1045, 1063 (E.D.Cal. 2011)
FN5. Although the court declines plaintiffs' invitation to speculate as to whether it is a worse injury for an individual salmon to be cut by sharp metal edges or die on dry land, Pls.' Reply Brief 12, the court will note that in this case the court is most concerned with the survival and recovery of the species, and not the comfort of any individual salmon moving its way up the ladder. Put another way, "logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the … one." Star Trek II; The Wrath of Khan (Paramount Pictures 1982).
Robinson v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., Inc., 335 S.W.3d 126, 162-163 (Tex. 2010)
Appropriately weighty principles guide our course. First, we recognize that police power draws from the credo that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." Second, while this maxim rings utilitarian and Dickensian (not to mention Vulcan FN21), it is cabined by something contrarian and Texan: distrust of intrusive government and a belief that police power is justified only by urgency, not expediency.
FN21. See Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Paramount Pictures 1982). The film references several works of classic literature, none more prominently than A Tale of Two Cities. Spock gives Admiral Kirk an antique copy as a birthday present, and the film itself is bookended with the book's opening and closing passages. Most memorable, of course, is Spock's famous line from his moment of sacrifice: "Don't grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh …" to which Kirk replies, "the needs of the few."
3) Another favorite source of quotes is Captain Kirk's opening monologue:
In re Marriage of Ross, 2007 WL 1632365, 4 (Cal.App. 4 Dist. 2007)
This is also particularly true for Calvin's argument, contrary to his contention the California codes are invalid, that the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) is the "supreme codified law of the planet" which makes his separate claim to all property in this dissolution matter superior to any purported community property claim. With apologies to the former television series Star Trek, we decline "to boldly go where no [rational analysis] has gone before." ( Star Trek: Episode Introduction monologue.)
In re Party Masters, Inc., 1992 WL 106259, 1 (Bkrtcy.N.D.Ill.,1992)
"Star Trek" has been a part of American culture during the last half of the Twentieth Century. To paraphrase its famous opening lines, this action is the voyage of two Star Trek convention promoters into litigation before this bankruptcy court; they explore and mix strange legal theories and ask the Court to seek out justice and do equity in this lawsuit of their creation; they boldly go where very few wise litigants have gone before-both parties assert contradictory and conflicting theories based on oral contract. Like the Star Trek characters battling in outer space, these parties struggle in the inner void left by their mutual failure to write down and document the terms of their agreement.
5) "Beam me up, Scotty" is often quoted, but what makes this quote special is the detail in the citation:
Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas v. Federal Highway Admin., 779 F.Supp.2d 542, 559 (W.D.Tex. 2011)
Perhaps Homo sapiens will experience a Darwinian epiphany to take better care of their home before they return to it. The alternative is a Captain Kirk moment: "Beam me up, Scotty!" FN62
FN62. "Beam me up, Scotty!" is a catch phrase which made its way into pop culture from the science fiction television series Star Trek. It comes from the command Captain Kirk (played by William Shatner) gives his chief engineer (played by James Doohan). Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, when he needs to be transported back to the Starship Enterprise. James Doohan, Beam Me Up, Scotty: Star Trek's Scotty–In His Own Words (Pocket Books 1996).
5) The Klingon Dictionary may replace Black's Law Dictionary as the go-to dictionary for legal definitions:
Norwood v. Vance 572 F.3d 626, 630, 637 (9th Cir. 2009)
(The majority opinion)
The district court declined to give the proposed instruction because the meaning of deference would not be "clear to a lay person." But "deference" is not Urdu or Klingon; it is a common English word.
I must, however, acknowledge that the majority is quite correct in intuiting that, unsurprisingly, there is no Klingon word for "deference." See generally Marc Okrand, The Klingon Dictionary (Star Trek 1992).
6) Even Star Trek technology has made appearances in judicial decisions:
County of Westchester v. Town of Greenwich, Conn. 793 F.Supp. 1195, 1207 -1208 (S.D.N.Y. 1992)
We first examine the first branch of the easement criteria, the open, visible, and adverse requirements for a prescriptive easement. We have no trouble concluding that the County's use of the glide paths was open and visible. Aircraft regularly passing overhead during their landings and takeoffs are hard to miss. And defendants have offered no evidence that any Stealth fighters operated on runway 11/29 or that any of the aircraft used the infamous Romulan cloaking device.FN11
FN11. For those unacquainted with the television series "Star Trek," this reference is to a device used by a civilization of beings called Romulans which rendered their spacecraft invisible to the naked eye.
7) Don't ever confuse Star Wars and Star Trek:
Faith v. Clark, 2012 WL 2376327, 14 (E.D.Cal. 2012)
THE WITNESS: Dr. Masters, among the forensic community, is considered-essentially equivalent to a John F. Kennedy in terms of his integrity, competence and ability. For younger folks in the jury, probably that don't know about John F. Kennedy, don't have the same feeling, probably better to think of Dr. Masters as Obi Wan Kenobi, which my daughters, the last of the great Jedi warriors portrayed by Alec [Guiness] in Star Trek.
THE COURT: Star Wars.
THE WITNESS: Star Wars-thank you very much.
8) And, finally, I had to share this, the second-oldest Star Trek reference I could find and the first to take judicial notice of Star Trek's cultural impact:
Golden Triangle Broadcasting, Inc. v. City of Pittsburgh 483 Pa. 525, 538, 397 A.2d 1147, 1153 (Pa. 1979)
As the "Star Trek" era is ushered into our lives, this Court must be prepared to keep its perspectives progressive and its definitions flexible, or else this Commonwealth will fail to acquire modern, technological manufacturing operations.
Screencaps via Trekcore.com.
This article originally appeared over at The Legal Geeks blog. The Legal Geeks are two attorneys blogging about all things Geek from a lawyer's point of view. They cover everything from Dune to Battlestar Galactica to the Rule Against Perpetuities. You can follow them on Twitter (@TheLegalGeeks) and follow Jessica Mederson on Twitter too (@eDiscMatters)