Thursday, May 26, 2016

Legislation on little cat feet

n., complainer, complaint; v.t., to complain (Yiddish; Eng., colloq.) 
As part of the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress is on the verge of passing major military justice legislation. The numerous major and minor changes are based overwhelmingly on an Obama administration proposal that grew out of the work of the Pentagon's Military Justice Review Group.

The House Report, H. Rep. No. 114-537, can be found here. The military justice provisions start at p. 600. The report correctly states that the changes "represent the first comprehensive revision of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in decades." The Senate Report, S. Rep. No. 114-255, can be found here. The report includes a potpourri of military justice changes; the comprehensive revision portion begins at p. 589.

Legislative consideration of the proposed UCMJ changes has been conducted in secret in both chambers. There has been one closed briefing, that we know of. Presumably, there has been a good deal of back-and-forth between House and Senate Armed Services Committee staffs, on the one hand, and the Defense Department, on the other. And we know of stray correspondence that the Hill has received (from the ABA, of all places) objecting to parts of the legislation. What's missing is hearings that are open to the public, and in which competing viewpoints can be heard and tested.

Shame on Congress for conducting the public's business in this fashion on an issue as important as military justice. "Public Law" is not a figure of speech. It is difficult to think of a more effective -- or more profoundly scandalous -- way to erode public confidence in the administration of military justice than to frame legislation, effectively, in secret.

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