Monday, November 13, 2023

How many judges should sit when CAAF rules on petitions for grant of review?

Longtime followers of Global Military Justice Reform will recall several posts addressing the unfairness of ruling on petitions for grant of review when there is a vacancy on the 5-judge U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. Examples appear herehere, and here.

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a Code of Conduct for Justices. The accompanying commentary observes in connection with Canon 3B:

. . . The Supreme Court consists of nine Members who sit together. The loss of even one Justice may undermine the “fruitful interchange of minds which is indispensable” to the Court’s decision-making process. See Dick v. New York Life Ins. Co., 359 U.S. 437, 459 (1959) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting). Recusal can have a “distorting effect upon the certiorari process, requiring the petitioner to obtain (under our current practice) four votes out of eight instead of four out of nine.” S. Ct. Stmt. of Recusal Policy (Nov. 1, 1993). When hearing a case on the merits, the loss of one Justice is “effectively the same as casting a vote against the petitioner. The petitioner needs five votes to overturn the judgment below, and it makes no difference whether the needed fifth vote is missing because it has been cast for the other side, or because it has not been cast at all.” Cheney v. United States Dist. Court for D.C., 541 U.S. 913, 916 (2004) (memorandum of Scalia, J.). And the absence of one Justice risks the affirmance of a lower court decision by an evenly divided Court—potentially preventing the Court from providing a uniform national rule of decision on an important issue. See Microsoft Corp. v. United States, 530 U.S. 1301, 1303 (2000) (statement of Rehnquist, C.J.). In short, much can be lost when even one Justice does not participate in a particular case. [Bold typeface added.]

Perhaps the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces will reconsider its practice next time it considers a petition for review when there is a vacancy or recusal.

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