EQUAL JUSTICE FOR OUR MILITARY ACT OF 2007 -- (House of Representatives - September 27, 2008)
Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, the vast majority of servicemembers serve with distinction and honor, and are never subjected to disciplinary action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But when disciplinary action is necessary, the UCMJ and the military justice system provide a high degree of protection for the accused. In many cases, these protections extend well beyond those provided by the civil justice system.
But from time to time, policymakers ought to review and contemplate proposals for change. I am told the particular section of the code this bill would amend has not been altered or subjected to a congressional review in a quarter of a century. And yet the bill before us proposes far-reaching and significant changes in terms of expanded appellate rights for servicemembers convicted of wrongdoing.
I would support consideration of this measure in the regular order. But the regular order requires a review and consideration of the relative merits of the legislation by subcommittee and committee members with subject matter expertise; a hearing with witnesses who can present expert testimony and offer guidance as to the necessity, effect and scope of any proposals in the bill; a markup or markups after notice to the public and the stakeholders most likely to be impacted by changes; and a committee report that is written and made available to the public and future Congresses that explains the intent and rationale of the proposed changes.
Regrettably, the committee and House leadership have decided to short-circuit the process and dispense with every single one of these steps. This is despite the fact that the bill was introduced by its sponsors and referred to the Courts Subcommittee, with no action, more than a year ago.
The regular order did not fare any better in the other body where the committee of jurisdiction took up the measure just 2 weeks ago and reported it without a hearing, a report, or any other substantial process or record.
Because of the haste with which this proposal is being considered, one might infer there are no questions that ought to be addressed or there are questions that might expose this bill as bad policy if Congress wasn't rushing to judgment.
The truth is when a similar measure was introduced last Congress, the general counsel of the Department of Defense raised major questions about the wisdom and necessity of that bill, as well as its likely impact on the department.
In a letter dated February 6, 2006, General Counsel William J. Haynes, II, wrote that the Department of Defense ``opposes the proposed legislation.''
He noted the department's view that ``there is demonstrable inequity that needs to be rectified''; that ``opening this additional avenue of Supreme Court appeal will require legal reviews and briefs from numerous counsel on the military departments' Government and Defense Appellate Divisions, the Department of Defense Office of General Counsel, as well as within the Office of the Solicitor General and the Supreme Court,'' and that the legislation provides no ``clear safeguards'' to preclude the possible abuse by petitioners of this new avenue for appellate review.
I am particularly concerned by this last point as well as the fact that the bill is written to permit an appellant to repeal the case to the Supreme Court even when the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has declined to review it on the merits, let alone to issue a final decision.
Unfortunately, by refusing to permit the subcommittee and committee members to study the issues and properly discharge their responsibilities, the House leadership is forcing Members to make assumptions without any evidence. Just as a court should not convict someone of an offense without due process and evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, Members of Congress should not be placed in the position of changing long-standing policies without some formal process and actual consideration of the evidence for and against the proposal.
The Democratic leadership increasingly has resorted to extraordinary tactics to move legislation. In so doing, they do a disservice to the Members of the House and of the people we represent.
In closing, Mr. Speaker, the unasked questions and lack of process compel me for the time being to oppose this legislation.
I yield back the balance of my time.