Three Simple Words to Fix the American Justice System: Trial By Combat

The United States legal system, both criminal and civil, is a sprawling, complex, and at times unfair leviathan. Despite the safeguards guaranteed under our Constitution, and despite practitioners' and jurists' most diligent efforts to procure just results, the system remains inherently fallible.

Our foremost legal scholarship is replete with ideas for improvement, many of which are quite commendable and merit serious discussion at the legislative and policy-making level. But commentators universally neglect one simple yet elegant solution that has served as a proven cornerstone in the area of conflict resolution for thousands of years. I'm referring, of course, to trial by combat.

As former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner recently lamented, "If trial by combat still works in Westeros, why can't it work here? Honestly, I think we need a lot less Bush v. Gore and a lot more Hound v. Lightning Lord."


For the uninitiated, the Trial by Combat ("TbC") system essentially resolves all legal disputes by pitting the parties against one another in a no-holds-barred fight to the death. At the conclusion of the proceedings, the person who is not dead is deemed the prevailing party.

The beauty lies in the simplicity. No more six-week trials eating up resources in a time of ever-increasing judicial budget cuts. No more 600-page treatises on esoteric legal theories, or endless quibbling over what the definition of the word "is" is. From the most heinous murder to the simplest traffic violation, there will be one and only one controlling rule of law: kill or be killed.

Now, I know what you're thinking. "That sounds awesome and I see few if any problems with implementing it. Let's do it." Though I tend to agree, it may be worth assessing with a slightly more critical eye. Let's a take look at some of the "Pros" and "Cons" of the TbC system.

Pro: Ratings Spike for Networks Struggling to Find an Audience

Don't tell me the execs at Court TV wouldn't eat this idea up -- just look at the ratings GoT rakes in for HBO! The ad money practically prints itself. If you are an 18-49 year old interested in purchasing things depicted intermittently on your television screen, what would you rather watch: two hours of some assistant district attorney reading bank transactions into the record, or an accused white-collar criminal swinging a mace around his head, tie askew, while a government employee advances menacingly towards him in a Zenkutsu-dachi? Exactly.

Con: Lessened Focus on the Pursuit of Truth

In contrast to the current system's ostensible mission of seeking and ascertaining truth, the TbC system is primarily concerned with two people trying to viciously murder one another, producing a level of inquiry into the underlying facts and governing law that undoubtedly leaves something to be desired. On the other hand...

Pro: Way Fewer Lawyers

Hey-O! Bottom of the ocean/good start/etc., am I right? With little to no "lawyering" to be done, those professional ranks are sure to dwindle. The decrease in demand for lawyers, however, should lead to a concomitant uptick in the market for MMA experts, boxing trainers, and sensei (even perhaps, in the case of the wealthiest and most discerning litigants, ninjas). This would allow martial arts academies to replace law schools as the premiere institutions willing to charge $50,000 a year to teach their students (i.e., "combat consultants") nothing they couldn't learn in their first year on the job. But don't fret recent legal grads: your jobs at Starbucks will still be safe!

Con: Tons of Dead People

Admittedly not so great. This aspect would pose particular difficulties for prosecutors' offices looking to recruit new talent. "Seeking highly motivated self-starter with excellent interpersonal, oral, and written communication skills to join our team. We offer a competitive salary, 401(k), and paid parental leave. Excruciating death probable." Especially concerning in the event of a zombie apocalypse, and thus requiring strict regulations governing losing party corpse disposal ("LPCD").

Pro: Finality

The TbC system will inevitably result in a marked decrease in appellate litigation, saving time, money, and the electrical costs of those little green and red lights that tell you when to talk and when to stop talking. It's not fixing Medicare, but it's a start.

Con: Complete Breakdown of the Social Structure, Leading to U.S. Population Splitting Into Warring Tribal Factions Solely Concerned With Securing Resources and Attempting to Eke Out Another Few Precious Hours of Survival

Yeah OK so maybe don't do this.