Friday, April 8, 2011

Footnote of the Day: Star Trek as a Citation for the State's Police Power

If there is one citation that best explains the constitutional "police power" of the state, it might be from well-established precedent, or perhaps even literature, but what about Star Trek? 

Here's the footnote:   

Star Trek

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.”

Robinson v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., Inc., __ S.W.3d ___, 2010 WL 4144587  n.21 (Willet, J. concurring) (Tex. 2010). 

The case addressed whether a statute that limits certain corporations' successor liability for personal injury claims of asbestos exposure violated the prohibition against retroactive laws contained in article I, section 16 of the Texas Constitution as applied to a pending action.

The Texas Supreme Court held the statute unconstitutional, finding any public interest served by the statute to be "slight."

Justice Willet, concurring, viewed the case not merely about whether the statute “singled out Barbara Robinson and unconstitutionally snuffed out her pending action against a lone corporation,” but it is about delimiting “the outer edge of police-power constitutionality,” an issue that “has bedeviled Texas courts for over a century.”   Thus, Willet writes:

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), 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.

Footnote 21, of course, is to the word "Vulcan."


with J. Zak Ritchie

[image: Star Trek Wrath of Khan uniform, via]

Courts and Judging, Film, Games, State Constitutional Law | Permalink

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