A partial response to Jacob Levy of the Volokh Conspiracy
Jacob Levy writes
a lot of things in his post on the military. It's clear at the outset that there is room for disagreement between reasonable and intelligent people on this issue. Notwithstanding that, I think he's wrong about a few things.
1. The Uniform Code of Military Justice isn't precisely the issue here; 10 U.S.C. 654 is. Nonetheless, I have some issues with the way he characterizes the UCMJ. First, he writes that "The internal governance of the military isn't quite a black box as far as constitutional law is concerned; but it's very close." That's not exactly right. For starters, the UCMJ is subject to the constraints of the U.S. Constitution. Criminal adjudications under the UCMJ are reviewable by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
, a court which has the same stature (although not the same prestige) as any Art. III appeals court. Military convictions are subject to the same Constitutional rules that civilian convictions are, and indeed, many are overturned in the military context.
1a. He also writes that "The Uniform Code of Military Justice authorizes court-martial and other internal legal proceedings that are very clearly not as advantageous to defendants as the (currently-interpreted-) Constitutional minumum for civilian trials." It's also unfair to say the military system is more punitive or less fair than the civilian system. In many ways, the military system is more
fair than the civilian system because it must compensate for the overarching coercive nature of the military environment. For example, the military privilege against self-incrimination is substantially stronger than that in the civilian world, and indeed was cited in the Court's Miranda
decision as a model for the protections articulated by the Court in that decision. (For more on this, see my piece in Writ
at Findlaw.Com on the military justice system.)
2. The UCMJ exists in Title 10 as a creation of Congress; it's codified
in Chapter 47 of Title 10 in the United States Code. However, Congress has delegated the administration of the UCMJ to the President, and executive branch attorneys actually revise the UCMJ every two years and promulgate the rules of evidence and procedure that go along with the actual punitive articles. There is a great deal of deference to the UCMJ because it is very much an executive-branch creation; a product of the respective service JAGs.
3. 10 U.S.C. 654
, on the other hand, is somewhat different as a matter of law and politics. It is a creature of Congress, not the Pentagon, and can only be changed by Congress or the courts. As a federal statute, it is due the deference that the Court would give to the political branches on any legislative matter. It may also be due some Constitutional deference in accordance with the delegation of powers in Art. I
, Sec. 8: "To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces." I don't think it's a slam dunk to say this is a matter of national security and military deference, therefore the courts will defer. For starters, it's not clear whether this ban is
in America's national security interest. (See, e.g., the discharge of Arab-speaking linguists from the Defense Language Institute earlier this year) Second, it's not clear that a statute like this will receive the same deference, given its legal context and legislative history, as a regulation promulgated directly by the Pentagon. Third, I'm not sure that this policy will get the 100% backing of the Pentagon today.
4. I cited to Goldman v. Weinberger
for exactly the opposite proposition that Jacob points out, with help from a couple of other cases like Rostker v. Goldberg
. The point is that the military is allowed to make certain regulations that do not heavily burden the exercise of fundamental rights. The military can burden such rights on the margins, such as requiring Jewish soldiers to wear earth-tone yarmulkes or shave their beards in order to achieve a proper seal with their M40
protective mask. But it cannot flatly tell these servicemembers not to engage in their conduct. In other words, a little burden is okay; a big burden is not. The military has gotten away with burdening fundamental rights in a small way, and it has been deferred to by the courts. But it may not get such deference when it heavily burdens fundamental rights that have been recognized by the court.
This is somewhat of a slippery slope problem, on which I am grateful to Eugene Volokh's thoughtful piece
in the Harvard Law Review. (Full disclosure: I'm still trying to understand the full argument of Eugene's article) However, the point is that the military's conduct may be okay at one point on the slope, while not being okay at a subsequent, lower point on the slope. As I understand fundamental rights analysis, the extent of the burden plays some role in determining the outcome. To the extent that the policy on gays burdens the rights of gays much more heavily than any other military policy does with respect to a fundamental right, this policy may be struck down.
5. Jacob writes that the military policy does not directly prohibit sodomy, and since that's what the Supreme Court recognized, the Supreme Court's decision does not directly delegitimize the military's policy. I can see this point, but I think it's wrong as a matter of Constitutional law. For starters, Justice Kennedy's opinion
did not just strike down the Texas sodomy statute; it recognized a fundamental right of intimate conduct for homosexual persons. The fundamental rights analysis does not require an exact fit between the facts of Lawrence and the facts of a military case in order to work. Once the Court recognizes a fundamental right, the analysis works quite differently. The burden shifts to the government to show a compelling interest for its policy which burdens the right, and that the policy is narrowly tailored to that compelling interest. The right recognized by the Court was not just sodomy -- it was "intimate conduct". 10 U.S.C. 654 may not directly speak to sodomy per se
, but it certainly speaks to "intimate conduct" of homosexual persons.
Thus, I believe this policy cannot stand as a matter of Constitutional law. But as I said before, this is an area where reasonable people can disagree, and it's certainly no slam dunk.Update:
Jacob has a response
at the Volokh Conspiracy, which he slyly calls a "couple of quick rejoinders". Hah. Remind me never to pick an intellectual fight with an academic again. Jacob has a long and well-researched note that I frankly don't have time to respond to. Even if I could, it looks like he's probably right on some of the important legal issues that will decide this fight in the courts. I may write on this later, if I get some time after work tonight or tomorrow. But until then, it's back to the salt mines (law firm) for me. . .