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Jurisdiction and the Dora Milaje

by on April 10, 2021

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m a big superhero nerd, and also a lawyer. You can probably imagine how my ears perk up, so to speak, when these two things intersect. I’ll try to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but fair warning, this post discusses parts of the most recent episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. I’ll presume you’ve been appropriately warned of spoilers, and also that you have a basic knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

So, to set the scene, the new Captain America, John Walker, is talking to Sam, Bucky, and Zemo when suddenly the Dora Milaje show up. They demand that Zemo be handed over to them due to Zemo’s murder of King T’Chaka back in Civil War. John Walker, you gotta love him (no, you really don’t), refuses. And then he makes what is actually an interesting legal point: he argues that the Dora Milaje don’t have jurisdiction. ‘

The Dora leader, Ayo, responds in an absolutely wham-line cool way, “The Dora Milaja have jurisdiction wherever the Dora Milaje happen to be,” a fight ensues, and John gets satisfactorily pummeled. However, my lawyer brain naturally wondered: what about the whole jurisdiction issue?

I hasten to note that this is not my field, and I’m drawing mostly on my memory of Civil Procedure in first-year of law school, ten years ago. But here’s the thing: the Dora Milaje are the Black Panther’s bodyguards, essentially, sworn to protect the throne. As such, one could argue their authority ends where Wakandan sovereignty ends: at Wakanda’s border. Latvia, where the whole fight scene is set, is definitely outside Wakanda’s border. So we have a problem.

Ah, you say, but maybe the Dora Milaje are there pursuant to a valid extradition request. Possibly, but this assumes that Wakanda and Latvia both recognize each other and have an extradition treaty, which we don’t know. Remember, Wakanda just made itself known to the international world at the end of Black Panther, Also, the Dora Milaje’s actions don’t seem to me, offhand, to be in comportment with a formal extradition request with all the paperwork and all. My guess is they’re probably going with the good old fashioned off-the-books snatch and grab. That would make the most sense, given what Ayo said.

In other words, technically, had they captured Zemo, and had he stood trial, his lawyer might have been able to raise a valid procedural objection. On the other hand, we also don’t know how Wakanda’s legal system works. Their procedural rules might be totally different than American law. So who knows?

At that point, Zemo’s best move might be to try for a change of venue to a different court, maybe in Austria or through the UN, since that was where he committed the alleged crime, but then again, we don’t know if the Wakandans recognize motions for change of venue. Honestly, escaping down that tunnel was probably his best strategy, really. Lawyers can only do so much in a superhero world.

Thank you for indulging in my superhero movie thoughts; while you’re herecheck out my newly released novel, The Angel and the Apocalypse, available now on Amazon!”

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