Thursday, July 20, 2023

Extremism: what to do?

Air Force military judge Michael Schrama, writing in War on the Rocks, has offered this thoughtful appraisal of the problem of extremism in the ranks and what might be done about it. Excerpt:

[T]he freedom of speech protections under the First Amendment drastically limit the ability of criminal statutes to regulate content and viewpoints in a domestic setting. There is a concern that the application of a domestic extremist punitive article will violate the First Amendment. Certainly, every effort must be made to avoid undermining servicemembers’ constitutional rights. However, the Supreme Court has been consistent in giving deference to the military to determine and create policies for itself. In fact, policies aimed at keeping the military “insulated from both the reality and the appearance of acting as a handmaiden for partisan political causes” are “wholly consistent with the American constitutional tradition of a politically neutral military establishment under civilian control.” The Court’s deference extends to military policies that restrict individual rights, which are constitutionally protected for civilians. 

The Supreme Court has not held that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are inapplicable to the military, but it has held that the executive branch and Congress have extraordinary leeway to determine the extent of those rights. Accordingly, the military can curtail a servicemember’s rights far more than civilian authorities can curtail a civilian’s rights. The Supreme Court often refers to the military as a “separate community” with the wholly unique purpose of providing for the nation’s defense and waging the nation’s wars: “The different character of the military community and of the military mission requires a different application of [First Amendment] protections.” Courts base the argument for the separate community doctrine on the military’s exigent function, on which the survival of the nation depends and which has no analogue or parallel in civilian society. To provide for the nation’s defense and survival, this separate community abides by strict rules of discipline that will necessarily involve restriction of otherwise constitutionally provided protections.

Will the Supreme Court defer to a congressional judgment on this subject? That's the $64,000 question. 

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