Addressing the inclusion of the full Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act in the FY22 National Defense Authorization Act, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, issued the following statement:
“Chairman Reed has passed out of committee the strongest reforms to the military justice system in U.S. history and I am grateful for his work and leadership. I am proud that this year’s National Defense Authorization Act contains the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act, which I introduced earlier this year alongside Senators Grassley and Ernst, and which will move the prosecution of sexual assault and serious crimes from the chain of command to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors. In addition, it includes several amendments based on recommendations offered by the Independent Review Commission, as well as important reforms introduced by Senators Tillis and Hawley. We have before us the opportunity to provide our service members with a military justice system worthy of their sacrifice and I look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Reed and our partners in the House to make these historic, bipartisan reforms into law.”
Background on Senator Gillibrand’s fight to pass the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act:
Senator Gillibrand introduced her bill to reform the military justice system, the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), for the first time in 2013. That bill, and every version moving forward, would move the decision to prosecute sexual assault and serious crimes from the chain of command to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has been a partner on the bill since the beginning.
Gillibrand continued to introduced the bill every Congress. In 2021, the bill gathered significant momentum due to developments in bipartisan support, the new presidency of Joe Biden, and the findings of the 2020 Fort Hood report. In April 2021, she introduced a revised bill, the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act (MJIIPA), written with Senator Joni Ernst. This bill added important prevention measures.
Below are two timelines – one recounting the developments in 2021 and another outlining legislative action prior to 2021.
March 24, 2021 – Senator Kirsten Gillibrand holds a hearing on sexual assault in the military. Among the witnesses is the attorney for the family of Vanessa Guillén, a U.S. Army soldier whose murder spurred the 2020 Fort Hood report that found massive failures in how the military handles sexual assault and sexual harassment.
April 29, 2021 – Gillibrand holds a bipartisan press conference to introduce, for the first time, the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act (MJIIPA). Importantly, the bill has Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) as a lead co-sponsor. Ernst, a female combat veteran, mother of a West Point cadet, and sexual assault survivor, pushed for additional prevention measures in the bill. The press conference is attended by Senators Gillibrand, Grassley (R-IA), Ernst (R-IA), Cruz (R-TX), Blumenthal (D-CT) and Kelly (D-AZ), as well as advocates and survivors.
By the end of the day, Gillibrand announces that the bill has been introduced with 46 original cosponsors, including several previous opponents, such as Angus King (I-ME), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Mark Warner (D-VA), among others.
May 13, 2021 – Gillibrand announces that the bill has earned the support of 61 senators–a filibuster-proof bipartisan majority.
May 18, 2021 – Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who voted for the bill twice in the past, voices support for passing MJIIPA on the floor of the Senate, saying, “I do support Senator (Kirsten) Gillibrand and Senator (Joni) Ernst’s very good proposal on sexual harassment in the military. I would hope to put that on the floor.”
May 24, 2021 – For the first time, Gillibrand takes to the floor to ask for unanimous consent to advance the MJIIPA to the floor for a vote from the full Senate. She notes that previous legislation to protect victims of sexual assault has been stripped out of past NDAAs in conference. She is supported by Senators Grassley, Blumenthal and Ernst. However, the motion is blocked.
Over the next two months, Gillibrand takes to the floor to ask for unanimous consent on the legislation 20 more times. Each time, her motion is opposed.
June 1, 2021 – Gillibrand announces that Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) has signed on as a cosponsor, bringing the total to sixty-six senators.
June 22, 2021 – Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin endorses taking prosecution of sexual assault out of the chain of command. He notes the recommendations of the Independent Review Commission, which, according to the Associated Press, offered “an expansive set of recommendations to combat sexual assault in the military, including prevention, command climate, victim care and support.”
June 23, 2021 – Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, introduces the House companion bill, the Vanessa Guillén Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act, at a bipartisan press conference attended by Speaker Pelosi and Senator Gillibrand. During the press conference, Pelosi commits to bringing the bill to the floor, saying, “I’m very definite. We will bring this bill to the Floor. It will pass in the House.”
July 2, 2021 – President Joe Biden announces his support for removing prosecution of sexual assault from the chain of command. During his campaign for president, Biden had been asked about removing all serious crimes from the chain of command, and answered “yes, yes, yes.”
July 8, 2021 – The Congressional Black Caucus endorses the MJIIPA.
July 19, 2021 – The Congressional Hispanic Caucus endorses the MJIIPA.
July 20, 2021 – During the Personnel Subcommittee markup of the FY22 NDAA, Gillibrand offers the MJIIPA as an amendment. The amendment passes 5-1, with Senators Warren, Hirono, Tuberville and Hawley joining Gillibrand in voting aye. The inclusion of the MJIIPA in the Personnel Subcommittee mark means that unless the full committee votes to remove it, the provision will be included in the NDAA.
July 21, 2021 – The full Senate Armed Services Committee votes on the NDAA. MJIIPA remains part of the larger NDAA, which passes the Senate Armed Services Committee by a vote of 23–3. Gillibrand also fights for codification of the recommendations of President Biden’s IRC and successfully gets the majority of the recommendations included in the NDAA.
Timeline prior to 2021
2013: Gillibrand introduced the MJIA in May 2013. In June, she attempted to add it to the FY2014 NDAA as an amendment, but Sen. Carl Levin replaced it with his own plan that kept sexual assault prosecution decisions within the chain of command. In November, Gillibrand introduced the MJIA as an amendment to the FY2014 NDAA on the Senate floor, but it did not receive a vote. Later in November, Gillibrand introduced the MJIA again as a standalone bill.
2014: In March 2014, the MJIA was brought to a vote and earned majority support (55-45) but was filibustered. In December, Gillibrand introduced the MJIA again as standalone bills, but they did not come up for a vote. Also in December, she introduced the MJIA as two amendments to the FY2015 NDAA, but they did not receive a vote.
2015: In June 2015, Gillibrand introduced the MJIA as an amendment to the FY2016 NDAA. Later in June, it received a vote, but despite earning majority support again (50-49), it was filibustered.
2016: In May 2016, Gillibrand introduced the MJIA as an amendment to the FY2017 NDAA, but it did not receive a vote.
2017: In July 2017, Gillibrand introduced the MJIA as an amendment to the FY2018 NDAA, but it did not receive a vote. In November, Gillibrand introduced the MJIA as a standalone bill, but it did not receive a vote.
2018: In June 2018, Gillibrand introduced the MJIA as an amendment to the FY2019 NDAA, but it did not receive a vote.
2019: In June 2019, Gillibrand introduced the MJIA as a standalone bill, but it did not receive a vote. Also in June, Gillibrand introduced the MJIA as an amendment to the FY2020 NDAA, but it did not receive a vote.
2020: In June 2020, Gillibrand introduced the MJIA as an amendment to the FY2021 NDAA, but it did not receive a vote