Batman: No Man’s Land, Part 6

The main legal issues in No Man’s Land ended with the legal separation of Gotham from the United States—after all, if there’s no legal system there can’t be much in the way of legal issues.  But there are a few loose ends to address, including some that our readers asked about.

I. Lex Luthor: Humanitarian?

Near the end of No Man’s Land, Lex Luthor comes to Gotham bringing massive amounts of aid and even begins rebuilding the city.  The government condemns his actions as illegal, but apparently admits that its hands are tied: since Gotham is outside the United States, the U.S. government has no jurisdiction there.  So while entering Gotham was illegal, there’s not much the government can do about Lex once he’s there.  Oracle states that it would take a military action to stop Lex.

This is basically accurate but unlikely in practice.  For example, the law establishing the No Man’s Land would have likely included a civil asset forfeiture provision, allowing the government to seize assets suspected of being used to violate the law.  That would allow the government to seize Lex and Lex Corp’s assets.  Because it’s a civil proceeding it would not matter that Lex himself was outside the country at the time.

Of course, in the end Lex was using the humanitarian venture as a cover for a massive real estate fraud operation that would have left him owning most of Gotham if it weren’t for Batman’s intervention.  We’ll talk about that dastardly scheme in a (probably final) post on No Man’s Land.

II. Rejoining the United States

The exact mechanism by which Gotham rejoined the U.S. isn’t specified in the comics, but it’s suggested that it was led by the President bowing to public pressure following Lex’s humanitarian aid.  This is quasi-accurate.  Constitutionally, the President is in charge of foreign policy, but because the acquisition of new territory is derived from the treaty power, and treaties must be ratified by the Senate in order to become effective, at a minimum the Senate would have to approve the (re)annexation of Gotham.  That’s assuming the treaty is of the self-executing type; otherwise both houses of Congress would need to pass a corresponding enabling law.  So either way there would need to be congressional action.

Although new territory typically becomes a new state rather than enlarging an existing state, there’s no constitutional prohibition against doing so.  Overall, having Gotham rejoin the union is a much less problematic proposition than removing it was.

III. The Big Irony

One interesting consequence of declaring Gotham not to be part of the United States is that the United States actually retained jurisdiction over many of the crimes committed there.

The special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States includes “Any place outside the jurisdiction of any nation with respect to an offense by or against a national of the United States.”  18 U.S.C. § 7(7).  Although this would only cover federal crimes committed by or against a U.S. national, that still covers a lot of ground.  In fact, the federal murder statute makes any murder (“the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought”) committed within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States a federal crime.  18 U.S.C. § 1111.  That means that almost every murder committed in Gotham during No Man’s Land is a federal crime that remains prosecutable after Gotham rejoins the United States.  So ironically, by removing Gotham from the United States, the federal government actually gained jurisdiction over a large number of crimes that would otherwise have been a state issue!

10 responses to “Batman: No Man’s Land, Part 6

  1. Greg Rucka’s novelization heavily implied that Lex had suborned, bribed and blackmailed too many people in the particular necessary places of the federal and state government apparatus for an investigation, much less any arrests and seizures, to begin in the first instance.

    • That’s an important practical issue, especially when dealing with wealthy supervillains, but I wanted to point out that there are ways for the government to address criminal action outside its territory other than via military action.

  2. This is my favorite No Man’s Land post yet.

  3. What is the legal status of the independant goverments in No Mans Land Gotham? IIRC they never got beyond the level of street gangs (classifying a group made up of former memebers of the Gotham Police as a street gang for convenience and irony’s sake) controlling turf. Do they have any legal legitimacy? Would their organisers be guilty of any crime? Would their members be prosecutable for actions taken to defent their turf?

    • I don’t think they were legitimate governments. While some of them were able to hold on to territory, they never received recognition from other sovereign governments, which is a key element of sovereignty. Also, I don’t think any of them disputed Gotham’s return to the U.S., which probably waives any claim to sovereignty.

      The gang organizers and members would probably be guilty of any number of federal crimes, as outlined in the post. Some of their actions might be excusable on the basis of necessity or self-defense, but others would clearly not be. For example, one of the GCPD cops shot a helpless gang member in order to make a point about how serious the GCPD was about maintaining order. That was murder, plain and simple.

  4. Gotham City is an island but it is still within the U.S. of A.’s territorial waters. Without Gotham City declaring itself a separate country doesn’t the U.S. still maintain legal jurisdiction there? A real world example would be the Spratly Islands which are mostly in Philippine waters even though they aren’t part of the Philippines, although I realize that China and Vietnam doesn’t concede that the Philippines has jurisdiction there.

    • No, the US wouldn’t maintain jurisdiction because it expressly gave it up. It still retained jurisdiction over the harbor, presumably because it’s within 12 nautical miles of land that is still part of the United States. That’s why it could enforce the quarantine by, among other things, mining the harbor.

    • The Spratly Islands are well outside the territorial waters of the Philippines. The various nations claiming jurisdiction want to do so in order to expand their territorial waters (12 nautical miles from land) and, more importantly, their exclusive economic zone (200 nautical miles from land).

      • And that would be the discussion territory that might justify inviting the likes of political commentators Gwynne Dyer (author of War) and James Dunnigan (of the Quick and Dirty Guide to War volumes) into the discussion. The former is a self-admitted Asimov fan.

      • Martin Phipps

        Actually I knew full well that there was a distinction between territorial waters and exclusive economic zone but I didn’t know that the territorial waters only went out twelve miles. I thought that most of the Spratly Islands would be in the Philippine territorial waters and the rest would be in the Exclusive Economic Zone. Anyway, I would have thought that the latter would be more important anyway if there were oil found: other countries couldn’t drill there if the Philippines had “exclusive” rights there. There may be a similar argument to be made with regards to Gotham City, including parts that didn’t fall within the twelve mile limit for territorial waters. For instance, other countries couldn’t invade Gotham City and start looting the place, could they? I guess I’m confused as to what “exclusive economic zone” means. My interpretation is that citizens of other countries would be allowed to come and go but they couldn’t take anything of value: the U.S. would have the “exclusive” right to claim anything of value on Gotham. Or does “exclusive economic zone” only cover fishing and drilling rights?

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