Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, today announced new bipartisan military justice reforms that she successfully fought to secure in the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by both the House and Senate. The NDAA will now head to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
“I am proud to fight for reforms to improve our military justice system, and I am pleased that these reforms made it into the final National Defense Authorization Act. With so many sexual assault crimes still happening in our military and more survivors coming forward with their stories, it’s clear that we need to act urgently to implement these essential reforms,” said Senator Gillibrand, Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee. “I was proud to fight for these improvements, and I will continue to do everything in my power to make sure our military has a justice system that is fair and professional.”
Below is a summary of Gillibrand’s military justice reforms that were included in the just-passed defense bill:
Litigation Track for JAGs/Military Justice Professionalization
Gillibrand put forward bipartisan legislation with Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) to improve the pilot program for a career track for lawyers in each armed service in order to create greater expertise within the military justice system. This provision in the NDAA allows highly qualified civilian employees with expertise in criminal litigation to provide assistance to and consult with less-experienced judge advocates in their cases. It also ensures that military lawyers who specialize in criminal litigation have the same career opportunities for promotion. Survivors and the accused deserve the highest-quality representation in court and this legislation is an important step towards achieving a more professional military justice system.
Gillibrand introduced the bipartisan Educating Service Members in Training on Prevention (E-STOP) Act with Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), which implements new educational steps to thwart military sexual assault by mandating in-person, comprehensive sexual assault prevention training to newly enlisted service members before they depart for basic training, including proper use of social media.
Appellate Rights for Victims
Gillibrand also included legislation that paves the way for equal access to military appellate courts regarding victims’ rights. The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has declined to hear petitions on victims’ rights issues, citing congressional intent, despite the fact that the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act provided for enforcement of certain crime victims’ rights by all courts of criminal appeals, including the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. Limiting access to appellate courts goes against the long-standing legal principle of due process. This bill corrects this injustice and allows both the accused and survivors a path for relief in the appellate court system.