Article I, Section 8, Clause 11:
[The Congress shall have Power . . .] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; . . .
Under its power to make rules for the government and regulation of the armed forces, Congress has set up a system of criminal law binding on all servicemen, with its own substantive laws, its own courts and procedures, and its own appeals procedure. 1 The drafters of these congressional enactments conceived of a military justice system with application to all servicemen wherever they are, to reservists while on inactive duty training, and to certain civilians in special relationships to the military. In recent years, all these conceptions have been restricted.
Although there had been extensive disagreement about the practice of court-martial trial of servicemen for nonmilitary offenses, 2 the matter never was raised in substantial degree until the Cold War period when the United States found it essential to maintain both at home and abroad a large standing army in which great numbers of servicemen were draftees. In O'Callahan v. Parker, 3 the Court held that court-martial jurisdiction was lacking to try servicemen charged with a crime that was not
service connected. The Court did not define
service connection, but among the factors it found relevant were that the crime in question was committed against a civilian in peacetime in the United States off-base while the serviceman was lawfully off duty. 4 O'Callahan was overruled in Solorio v. United States, 5 the Court holding that
the requirements of the Constitution are not violated where . . . a court-martial is convened to try a serviceman who was a member of the armed services at the time of the offense charged. 6 Chief Justice Rehnquist's opinion for the Court insisted that O'Callahan had been based on erroneous readings of English and American history, and that
the service connection approach . . . has proved confusing and difficult for military courts to apply. 7
It is not clear what provisions of the Bill of Rights and other constitutional guarantees apply to court-martial trials. The Fifth Amendment expressly excepts
[c]ases arising in the land and naval forces from its grand jury provision, and there is an implication that these cases are also excepted from the Sixth Amendment. 8 The double jeopardy provision of the Fifth Amendment appears to apply. 9 The Court of Military Appeals now holds that servicemen are entitled to all constitutional rights except those expressly or by implication inapplicable to the military. 10 The Uniform Code of Military Justice, supplemented by the Manual for Courts-Martial, affirmatively grants due process rights roughly comparable to civilian procedures, so it is unlikely that many issues necessitating constitutional will arise. 11 However, the Code leaves intact much of the criticized traditional structure of courts-martial, including the pervasive possibilities of command influence, 12 and the Court of Military Appeals is limited on the scope of its review, 13 thus creating areas in which constitutional challenges are likely.
Upholding Articles 133 and 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Court stressed the special status of military society. 14 This difference has resulted in a military Code regulating aspects of the conduct of members of the military that in the civilian sphere would go unregulated, but on the other hand the penalties imposed range from the severe to well below the threshold of that possible in civilian life. Because of these factors, the Court, while agreeing that constitutional limitations applied to military justice, was of the view that the standards of constitutional guarantees were significantly different in the military than in civilian life. Thus, the vagueness challenge to the Articles was held to be governed by the standard applied to criminal statutes regulating economic affairs, the most lenient of vagueness standards. 15 Nor did application of the Articles to conduct essentially composed of speech necessitate a voiding of the conviction, as the speech was unprotected, and, even though it might reach protected speech, the officer here was unable to raise that issue. 16
Military courts are not Article III courts, but are agencies established pursuant to Article I. 17 In the 19th century, the Court established that the civil courts have no power to interfere with courts-martial and that court-martial decisions are not subject to civil court review. 18 Until August 1, 1984, the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction to review by writ of certiorari the proceedings of a military commission, but as of that date Congress conferred appellate jurisdiction of decisions of the Court of Military Appeals. 19 Prior to that time, civil court review of court-martial decisions was possible through habeas corpus jurisdiction, 20 an avenue that continues to exist, but the Court severely limited the scope of such review, restricting it to the issue whether the court-martial has jurisdiction over the person tried and the offense charged. 21 In Burns v. Wilson, 22 however, at least seven Justices appeared to reject the traditional view and adopt the position that civil courts on habeas corpus could review claims of denials of due process rights to which the military had not given full and fair consideration. Since Burns, the Court has thrown little light on the range of issues cognizable by a federal court in such litigation 23 and the lower federal courts have divided several possible ways. 24
Civilians and Dependents
In recent years, the Court rejected the view of the drafters of the Code of Military Justice with regard to the persons Congress may constitutionally reach under its clause 14 powers. Thus, it held that an honorably discharged former soldier, charged with having committed murder during military service in Korea, could not be tried by court-martial but must be charged in federal court, if at all. 25 After first leaning the other way, 26 the Court on rehearing found court-martial jurisdiction lacking, at least in peacetime, to try civilian dependents of service personnel for capital crimes committed outside the United States. 27 Subsequently, the Court extended its ruling to civilian dependents overseas charged with noncapital crimes 28 and to civilian employees of the military charged with either capital or noncapital crimes. 29