Military Justice in America

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, 1775-1980

Jonathan Lurie

A unique but largely neglected part of the American legal system, the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Services marks its fiftieth anniversary in 2001. In Military Justice in America, Jonathan Lurie chronicles the struggles leading to the Court's creation, as well as its subsequent efforts to fulfill a difficult and sometimes controversial mission. Illuminating and fairminded, Lurie's work provides a new and valuable perspective on the uneasy relations between civil and military authority.

Both comprehensive and detailed, Military Justice in America explores the history of the Court, which finally emerged in the wake of the national debates over the confrontation between civilian commitment to due process and individual rights and the military's demand for discipline. Deftly summarizing the Court's prehistory, Lurie then examines the Court's performance during its early years, amidst a growing civil rights movement and an increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam. He also shows how the Court matured as an institution, with its own procedures and personality, and analyzes its stormy relationship with the office of the Judge Advocate General. Along the way, he gives due attention to civilian control of the military, the essential differences between civilian and military jurisprudence, the ongoing interplay between law and politics.

“A thought-provoking examination of the philosophical framework underlying military justice.”

Military Law Review

“The seminal history of the development of the United States Court of Military Appeals for the Armed Forces. . . . This work documents the creation, operations, and maturation of the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in a way that provides an essential framework for anyone who desires to understand the modern military justice mechanism.

—American Historical Review
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Drawing on a wide range of manuscript collections, court files, and personal interviews, Lurie's work also critically assesses the Court's overall effectiveness. In particular, Lurie looks closely at the Court's efforts to maintain its independence, to insulate the courts-martial process from improper influence, and to fashion a just jurisprudence based on the Bill of Rights. He argues that, despite its undeniable achievements, the Court's performance has not lived up to its full potential and, further, has been seriously compromised by its continued accountability to the Senate Armed Services Committee. In the end, however, he points to the Court as an essential example (and reminder) of how, in our democracy, even the military must, in theory at least, answer to civilian authority.

Military Justice in America substantially abridges and revises two previous and heavily annotated volumes—Arming Military Justice and Pursuing Military Justice—originally commissioned by the Court for a much more limited readership. This new one-volume paperback edition has been prepared with a considerably wider readership in mind. Much more accessible and affordable than its predecessors, it will be especially appealing for anyone interested in American law, military history, and civil-military history.

About the Author

Jonathan Lurie is professor of history and adjunct professor of law at Rutgers University and has been historian and archivist for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces since 1987. He is also the author of Law and the Nation, 1865–1912.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series