Although the President is the Commander in Chief of the military, Congress was given the power to make the rules governing and regulating the armed forces. Because members of the armed forces are separate from civilian society, they are governed by different rules including a separate system of criminal justice.
[The Congress shall have Power . . . ] To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces; . . .
United States Library of Congress, The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation
The scope of the congressional and executive authority to prescribe the rules for the governance of the military is broad and subject to great deference by the judiciary. The Court recognizes "that the military is, by necessity, a specialized society separate from civilian society," that "[t]he military constitutes a specialized community governed by a separate discipline from that of the civilian," and that "Congress is permitted to legislate both with greater breadth and with greater flexibility when prescribing the rules by which [military society] shall be governed than it is when prescribing rules for [civilian society]."1 Denying that Congress or military authorities are free to disregard the Constitution when acting in this area,2 the Court nonetheless operates with "a healthy deference to legislative and executive judgments" about military affairs,3 so that, while constitutional guarantees apply, "the different character of the military community and of the military mission requires a different application of those protections."4
In reliance upon this deference to congressional judgment about the roles of the sexes in combat and the necessities of military mobilization, coupled with express congressional consideration of the precise questions, the Court sustained as constitutional the legislative judgment to provide for registration of males only for possible future conscription.5 Emphasizing the unique, separate status of the military, the necessity to indoctrinate men in obedience and discipline, the tradition of military neutrality in political affairs, and the need to protect troop morale, the Court upheld the validity of military post regulations, backed by congressional enactments, banning speeches and demonstrations of a partisan political nature and the distribution of literature without prior approval of post headquarters, with the commander authorized to keep out only those materials that would clearly endanger the loyalty, discipline, or morale of troops on the base.6 On the same basis, the Court rejected challenges on constitutional and statutory grounds to military regulations requiring servicemen to obtain approval from their commanders before circulating petitions on base, in the context of circulations of petitions for presentation to Congress.7 And the statements of a military officer urging disobedience to certain orders could be punished under provisions that would have been of questionable validity in a civilian context.8 Reciting the considerations previously detailed, the Court has refused to allow enlisted men and officers to sue to challenge or set aside military decisions and actions.9
Congress has a plenary and exclusive power to determine the age at which a soldier or seaman shall serve, the compensation he shall be allowed, and the service to which he shall be assigned. This power may be exerted to supersede parents' control of minor sons who are needed for military service. Where the statute requiring the consent of parents for the enlistment of a minor son did not permit such consent to be qualified, their attempt to impose a condition that the son carry war risk insurance for the benefit of his mother was not binding on the government.10 Because the possession of government insurance payable to the person of his choice is calculated to enhance the morale of the serviceman, Congress may permit him to designate any beneficiary he desires, irrespective of state law, and may exempt the proceeds from the claims of creditors.11 Likewise, Congress may bar a state from taxing the tangible, personal property of a soldier, assigned for duty in the state, but domiciled elsewhere.12 To safeguard the health and welfare of the armed forces, Congress may authorize the suppression of bordellos in the vicinity of the places where forces are stationed.13
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.14 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,15 the matter never was raised to a 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,16 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 was 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.17 O'Callahan was overruled in Solorio v. United States,18 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."19 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."20
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.21 The double jeopardy provision of the Fifth Amendment appears to apply.22 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.23 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.24 However, the Code leaves intact much of the criticized traditional structure of courts-martial, including the pervasive possibilities of command influence,25 and the Court of Military Appeals is limited on the scope of its review,26 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.27 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.28 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.29
Military courts are not Article III courts but are agencies established pursuant to Article I.30 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.31 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.32 Prior to that time, civil court review of court-martial decisions was possible through habeas corpus jurisdiction,33 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.34 In Burns v. Wilson,35 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 litigation36 and the lower federal courts have divided several possible ways.37
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.38 After first leaning the other way,39 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.40 Subsequently, the Court extended its ruling to civilian dependents overseas charged with noncapital crimes41 and to civilian employees of the military charged with either capital or noncapital crimes.42