To understand courts-martial at the time of the Founding, one must also understand the military (or organized violence more broadly) of the same period and the greater society within which it existed. And to do that, one must forget all you know of the modern military and instead imagine a completely foreign idea.
With things settling down at the new home and things apparently working out with the condo (fingers crossed!), it’s time to return to writing. My latest law review article is coming along nicely (I hope), so I thought I’d jump back into my blogging.
Military commanders are afforded tremendous power over members of the military under their command, as well as the physical installations (bases) where they command. As it relates to military justice—i.e. military criminal law—the commander is essentially the mayor, the district/state attorney, the person who selects the group (venire) from which the jury comes out of, and also serves as the military magistrate. And in these areas, it is safe to say these powers are exercised broadly—and with little to no questioning of that authority. This post discusses this latter power and reviews the seminal case in this area and suggests that perhaps the legal, political, social, and military history surrounding military justice reform may not make the question so clear cut.
Parker v. Levy is a seminal decision in military law that I have written about in previous posts. That decision upheld two rather sweeping criminal statutes that criminalize, by way of a conviction in a federal court, any conduct by a military officer or enlisted person that other military officers think is unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman (gentlewoman), or is prejudicial to good order and discipline or otherwise brings discredit to the armed forces. For those trained in the law or eerily erudite in the law absent training, these statutes appear unconstitutionally vague. But in his majority decision, then-Justice Rehnquist wrote that “the proper standard of review for a vagueness challenge to the articles of the Code is the standard which applies to criminal statutes regulating economic affairs. I have since wondered what that meant, and whether this view is worth re-assessing.
My last post on the Supreme Court’s establishment of the service connection requirement in O’Callahan v. Parker ran long, so I concluded that post without discussing Solorio v. United States, the Supreme Court decision less than twenty years after O’Callahan that abandoned the service connection requirement and in its place adopted a “status” test. Regardless of the type of offense, where committed, or nexus to military service and mission, one’s status alone as a service member granted the military jurisdiction to prosecute. Before summarizing some of the similarities and differences between military and civilian prosecution in a subsequent post, in this post I discuss how the Rehnquist Court retreated from requiring the military to demonstrate a military nexus between the offense and military service in order to prosecute a service member within the military justice system.
In all the debate over the state of military justice, little, if any, attention is paid to the society it governs. This society is seemingly treated as a monolith, ever constant over periods of great change within itself and broader society over centuries. I’ve continually believed that to understand the evolution of military law, one must also understand the evolution of military society.