Law’s Territory (A History of Jurisdiction)

Pop quiz: New York City. The United Kingdom. The East Bay Area Municipal Utilities District. Kwazulu, South Africa. The Cathedral of Notre Dame. The State of California. Vatican City. Switzerland. The American Embassy in the U.S.S.R. What do the foregoing items have in common? Answer: they are, or were, all territorial jurisdictions. A thesis of this Article is that territorial jurisdictions – the rigidly mapped territories within which formally defined legal powers are exercised by formally organized governmental institutions – are relatively new and intuitively surprising technological developments. New, because until the development of modern cartography, legal authority generally followed relationships of status rather than those of autochthony. Today jurisdiction seems inevitable, but, like death, it is “a habit to which consciousness has not been long accustomed.” Surprising? We are now accustomed to territorial jurisdiction – so much so that it is hard to imagine that government could be organized any other way. But despite several hundred years of acclimation, people continue to be disoriented, baffled, and thrilled by the consequences of jurisdictional legality. We are filled with sometimes grudging admiration when the latest Esmeralda evades the territorial reach of the pursuing constable. Examples abound, both historical and fictional (or perhaps syncretic). Consider the trek of the musically gifted von Trapps to the safety of neutral Switzerland, the bootlegger’s run of Burt Reynolds’s “Bandit” who stopped just over the county line long enough to thumb his nose at “Smokey” Sheriff Buford T. Justice, the heroic and desperate journey on the fugitive slave’s underground railroad, the once heroic, now demonized, pregnant foreigner who struggles over the border in time to give birth on American soil and thereby guarantees her child American citizenship.