Skip to content

Ernst, Gillibrand Offer Bipartisan Solution to Improve Military Justice System

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today put forward legislation to create a career track for the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps in order to improve expertise within the military justice system.  

Our servicemen and women deserve to have the most experienced litigators possible in the courtroom during legal proceedings. However, defense counsel s and prosecutors in the military justice system may have to litigate a case with little experience in the courtroom, potentially limiting their effectiveness.

This bipartisan legislation seeks to improve the quality of litigation expertise by requiring each branch of our military to implement a career litigation track that allows a portion of its attorneys to specialize in the foundation of U.S. military law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), for the bulk of their careers — an approach the Navy successfully adopted in 2007.

Senator Ernst and Senator Gillibrand also implemented a review of this program in the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

“The lack of specialized JAG litigators that currently exists in many branches of our military is an injustice to our servicemembers who may be hindered from receiving the best trial possible,” said Senator Ernst, a combat veteran. “Improving our military justice system will ensure victims of sexual assault and other crimes receive legal advice from well-qualified, experienced JAG’s in the military justice system. Our servicemembers – both victims and defendants – deserve the best.”

“Our service members and the public at large deserve a military justice system that upholds our Constitution, provides due process for the accused, and protects the rights of survivors,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the Ranking Member on the Personnel Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee. “Because JAGs transfer so frequently, most do not gain the necessary experience to try cases, defend the accused, or represent a survivor adequately. Moreover, JAGs are encouraged to have a broad range of experience, which means that a JAG who has very little experience trying cases may be assigned to a complex sexual assault case. Our service members deserve better. Our bill will change that and model the military justice system after the civilian system where lawyers become experts in their fields.”

About the JAG Corps Career Litigation Track Legislation: 

  • Increases prosecutorial experience, ensuring victims, including sexual assault survivors, work with seasoned prosecutors.
  • Develops seasoned defense counsel.
  • Empowers new JAG officers by providing an experienced co-counsel in the courtroom.
  • Creates a talent pipeline of experienced litigators.
  • Provides protection for skilled litigators who otherwise may have been forced out of military justice practice or military service due to lack of jobs for military justice practitioners at higher ranks or a preference for generalists.

To read the full text of the bill, click here.