Washington, DC – The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would grant U.S. service members the same rights as civilians to appeal their convictions to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Under U.S. law, civilians convicted of crimes can petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case after exhausting their appeals to the federal appellate courts or a state Supreme Court.

But members of the military do not have this same basic right. If the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces denies a service member’s petition for review – the case in the overwhelming majority of cases – they are barred from petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Equal Justice for U.S. Service Members Act -- cosponsored by Senator Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) and Senator Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) -- would eliminate this disparity between civilian and military justice.

“Unlike American civilians, members of the American armed forces are denied the basic right to petition the U.S. Supreme Court after losing at the appellate court level. This is simply wrong,” Senator Feinstein said.

“Service in the armed forces of the United States should not bring with it the loss of a basic right to due process.  It’s time to correct this unfair situation, and this legislation does exactly that. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to support this important legislation, and to recognize that our men and women in uniform should have the same ability to petition the nation’s highest court as everyone else.”

Background

Today, unless they face the death penalty, members of the armed services may petition the U.S. Supreme Court only after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces either conducts a review of their case or grants a petition for extraordinary relief.

But this occurs in only about 10 percent of military criminal cases, leaving the vast majority of court-martialed service members precluded from seeking or obtaining direct review from the high court.

In addition to this disparity, military prosecutors have the ability to petition the Supreme Court to review adverse rulings in these same cases, meaning that service members are denied the same rights as their prosecutors. 

This inequality has been noted by the American Bar Association, which passed a resolution in 2006 calling on Congress to fix a long-standing “disparity in our laws governing procedural due process.”

The Equal Justice for U.S. Service Members Act would:

  • Apply specifically to court-martialed service personnel who face dismissal, discharge or confinement of more than one year;
  • Allow service members to file a petition for writ of certiorari – a document asking for U.S. Supreme Court review -- in any case in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has denied review; and
  • Allow a petition for writ of certiorari to be filed in any case in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has denied a petition for extraordinary relief.

The Equal Justice for U.S. Service Members Act is the companion to legislation introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.).


###