Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1 (1957)

MR. JUSTICE CLARK, with whom MR. JUSTICE BURTON joins, dissenting.

The Court today releases tow women from prosecution though the evidence shows that they brutally killed their husbands, both American soldiers, while stationed with them in quarters furnished by our armed forces on its military installations in foreign lands. In turning these women free, it declares unconstitutional an important section of an Act of Congress governing our armed forces. Furthermore, four of my brothers would specifically over-rule and two would impair the long-recognized vitality of an old and respected precedent in our law, the case of In re Ross, 140 U.S. 453 (1891), cited by this Court with approval in many opinions and as late as 1929 by a unanimous Court 1 in Ex parte Bakelite Corp., 279 U.S. 438, 451. And, finally, the Court reverses, sets aside, and overrules two majority opinions and judgments of this Court in these same cases, reported in 351 U.S., at 470 and 487, and entered on June 11, 1956, less than 12 months ago. In substitute therefor it enters no opinion whatever for the Court. It is unable to muster a majority. Instead, there are handed down three opinions. But, worst of all, it gives no authoritative guidance as to what, if anything, the Executive or the Congress may do to remedy the distressing situation in which they now find themselves. [354 U.S. 1, 79]

MR. JUSTICE BURTON and I remain convinced that the former opinions of the Court are correct and that they set forth valid constitutional doctrine under the long-recognized cases of this Court. The opinions were neither written nor agreed to in haste and they reflect the consensus of the majority reached after thorough discussion at many conferences. In fact, the cases were here longer both before and after argument than many of the cases we decide. We adhere to the views there expressed since we are convinced that through them we were neither "mortgaging the future," as is claimed, nor foreclosing the present, as does the judgment today. We do not include a discussion of the theory upon which those former judgments were entered because we are satisfied with its handling in the earlier opinions. See 351 U.S., at 470 and 487.


Before discussing the power of the Congress under Art. I, 8, cl. 14, of the constitution it is well to take our bearings. These cases do not involve the jurisdiction of a military court-martial sitting within the territorial limits of the United States. Nor are they concerned with the power of the Government to make treaties or the legal relationship between treaties and the Constitution. Nor are they concerned with the power of Congress to provide for the trial of Americans sojourning, touring, or temporarily residing in foreign nations. Essentially, we are to determine only whether the civilian dependents of American servicemen may constitutionally be tried by an American military court-martial in a foreign country for an offense committed in that country. Congress has provided in Article 2 (11) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 64 Stat. 109, 50 U.S.C. 552 (11), that they shall be so tried in those countries with which we have an implementing treaty. The question therefore is whether [354 U.S. 1, 80] this enactment is reasonably related to the power of Congress "To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces." U.S. Const., Art. I, 8, cl. 14.

Historically, the military has always exercised jurisdiction by court-martial over civilians accompanying armies in time of war. Over 40 years ago this jurisdiction was declared by Congress to include "all persons accompanying or serving with the armies of the United States without the territorial jurisdiction of the United States." 2 Art. of War 2 (d), 39 Stat. 651. Article 2 (11) of the present Uniform Code of Military Justice was taken without material change from this provision of the Articles of War. At the time of enactment of the earlier provision Congress was plainly concerned with the maintenance of discipline and morale of American expeditionary forces composed of both military and civilian personnel. As pointed out in the Senate Report to the Sixty-fourth Congress at the time Article 2 (d) was adopted:

"The existing articles are further defective in that they do not permit the disciplining of these three classes of camp followers in time of peace in places to which the civil jurisdiction of the United States does not extend and where it is contrary to international policy to subject such persons to the local jurisdiction, or where, for other reasons, the law of the local jurisdiction is not applicable, thus leaving these classes practically without liability to punishment for their unlawful acts under such circumstances — as, for example,... where such forces so [354 U.S. 1, 81] accompanied are engaged in the nonhostile occupation of foreign territory, as was the case during the intervention of 1906-7 in Cuba." S. Rep. No. 130, 64th Cong., 1st Sess. 37-38.

Since that time the power of Congress to make civilians amenable to military jurisdiction under such circumstances has been considered and sustained by this Court and other federal courts in a number of cases. In Madsen v. Kinsella, 343 U.S. 341 (1952), we sustained the jurisdiction of a military commission to try a civilian wife for the murder of her husband in Germany in 1949. Unlike Mrs. Smith, the petitioner in Madsen contended that a military court-martial had exclusive jurisdiction to try her pursuant to Article of War 2 (d), the predecessor of Article 2 (11). In upholding the constitutionality of trial by a military commission, we pointed out that its jurisdiction was concurrent with that of the military court-martial, 343 U.S., at 345 , and that the jurisdiction of both stemmed directly from Article 2 (d), 343 U.S., at 361.

It is contended that no holding on the validity of court-martial jurisdiction over civilians was necessary to our decision in Madsen and that the case itself is distinguishable because occupied territory was involved and hence the action of Congress could be supported under the War Power. It is true that our reference to concurrent court-martial jurisdiction — when both petitioner and the Government agreed to it — was a concomitant to that decision, but our recognition of the power of Congress to authorize military trial of civilians under the circumstances provided for in Article 2 (d) was essential to the judgment. 343 U.S., at 361. Madsen was factually very similar to the present case, and in terms of the relevant considerations involved it is practically indistinguishable. In Madsen, as here, the crime involved was murder of a serviceman by a dependent wife living as a civilian with [354 U.S. 1, 82] our armed forces in a foreign country. In both cases jurisdiction was exercised by a military tribunal pursuant to an Act of Congress authorizing such jurisdiction over all persons accompanying the armed forces outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. The distinction that in one case the trial was by court-martial and in the other by a military commission is insubstantial. The contention that jurisdiction could be sustained in Madsen under the War Power of Congress but that this power is unavailable to authorize jurisdiction in Smith is likewise without merit. 3 Aside from the fact that this Court has never restricted so narrowly the action that Congress might take under the War Power, see Ashwander v. T. V. A., 297 U.S. 288 (1936), and Silesian-American Corp. v. Clark, 332 U.S. 469 (1947), there is as much, if not more, justification for employment of the War Power in Japan in 1952 as in Germany in 1949. At the time Mrs. Smith's crime was committed, Japan was the logistics and aviation base for actual hostilities then being waged in Korea, just across the Sea of Japan. And in 1949, Germany, after four years of peaceful and uneventful occupation, could hardly be considered an area where Congress could act only under its War Power. But the salient feature common to both countries was that the problems of maintaining control, morale, and discipline of our military contingents located there were substantially identical. These problems were not appreciably affected by the fact that one instance occurred during an occupation and the other shortly after a peace treaty had been signed.

Earlier, in Duncan v. Kahanamoku, 327 U.S. 304, 313 (1946), this Court had recognized the "well-established [354 U.S. 1, 83] power of the military" to exercise jurisdiction over persons directly connected with the armed forces, and this power has been repeatedly recognized in cases decided in the lower federal courts. See United States ex rel. Mobley v. Handy, 176 F.2d 491 (1949); Perlstein v. United States, 151 F.2d 167 (1945); Grewe v. France, 75 F. Supp. 433 (1948); In re Berue, 54 F. Supp. 252 (1944); Hines v. Mikell, 259 F. 28 (1919); Ex parte Jochen, 257 F. 200 (1919); Ex parte Falls, 251 F. 415 (1918); Ex parte Gerlach, 247 F. 616 (1917). See also United States v. Burney, 6 U.S.C. M. A. 776, 21 C. M. R. 98 (1956).

In considering whether Article 2 (11) is reasonably necessary to the power of Congress to provide for the government of the land and naval forces we note, as relevant, certain other considerations. As a nation we have found it necessary to the preservation of our security in the present day to maintain American forces in 63 foreign countries throughout the world. In recent years the services have recognized that the presence of wives and families at many of these foreign bases is essential to the maintenance of the morale of our forces. This policy has received legislative approval and the tremendous expense to the Government involved in the transportation and accommodation of dependents overseas is considered money well spent. It is not for us to question this joint executive and legislative determination. The result, however, has been the creation of American communities of mixed civilian and military population on military bases throughout the world. These civilians are dependent on the military for food, housing, medical facilities, transportation, and protection. Often they live in daily association in closely knit groups nearly isolated from their surroundings. It cannot be denied that disciplinary problems have been multiplied and complicated by this influx of civilians onto military bases, and Congress has provided that military personnel and civilians [354 U.S. 1, 84] alike shall be governed by the same law administered by the same courts.

Concerning the effect of civilian activities under such circumstances on the discipline and morale of the armed services, we have found no better statement than that of Judge Latimer of the United States Court of Military Appeals where the constitutionality of Article 2 (11) was upheld in the recent case of United States v. Burney, 6 U.S.C. M. A. 776, 21 C. M. R. 98 (1956). Referring to the combat readiness of an overseas command, Judge Latimer stated:

"[I]t is readily ascertainable that black market transactions, trafficking in habit-forming drugs, unlawful currency circulation, promotion of illicit sex relations, and a myriad of other crimes which may be perpetrated by persons closely connected with one of the services, could have a direct and forceful impact on the efficiency and discipline of the command. One need only view the volume of business transacted by military courts involving, for instance, the sale and use of narcotics in the Far East, to be shocked into a realization of the truth of the previous statement. If the Services have no power within their own system to punish that type of offender, then indeed overseas crime between civilians and military personnel will flourish and that amongst civilians will thrive unabated and untouched. A few civilians plying an unlawful trade in military communities can, without fail, impair the discipline and combat readiness of a unit. At best, the detection and prosecution of crime is a difficult and time-consuming business, and we have grave doubts that, in faraway lands, the foreign governments will help the cause of a military commander by investigating the seller or user of habit-forming drugs, or assist him in deterring [354 U.S. 1, 85] American civilians from stealing from their compatriots, or their Government, or from misusing its property." 6 U.S.C. M. A., at 800, 21 C. M. R., at 122.

In addition, it is reasonable to provide that the military commander who bears full responsibility for the care and safety of those civilians attached to his command should also have authority to regulate their conduct. Moreover, all members of an overseas contingent should receive equal treatment before the law. In their actual day-to-day living they are a part of the same unique communities, and the same legal considerations should apply to all. There is no reason for according to one class a different treatment than is accorded to another. The effect of such a double standard on discipline, efficiency, and morale can easily be seen.

In United States ex rel. Toth v. Quarles, 350 U.S. 11 (1955), the Court recognized this necessity. There Art. I, 8, cl. 14, was "given its natural meaning" and "would seem to restrict court-martial jurisdiction to persons who are actually members or part of the armed forces." (Emphasis added.) Id., at 15. The Court went on to say:

"It is impossible to think that the discipline of the Army is going to be disrupted, its morale impaired, or its orderly processes disturbed, by giving ex-servicemen the benefit of a civilian court trial when they are actually civilians.... Court-martial jurisdiction sprang from the belief that within the military ranks there is need for a prompt, ready-at-hand means of compelling obedience and order. But Army discipline will not be improved by court-martialing rather than trying by jury some civilian ex-soldier who has been wholly separated from the service for months, years or perhaps decades. Consequently considerations of discipline provide no excuse for new [354 U.S. 1, 86] expansion of court-martial jurisdiction at the expense of the normal and constitutionally preferable system of trial by jury." Id., at 22-23.

These women were as much "a part" of the military installation as were their husbands. Upon attack by an enemy they would be so treated; all foreign governments so recognized them at all times; and, in addition, it has been clearly shown, unlike in Toth, that "the discipline of the Army is going to be disrupted, its morale impaired, or its orderly processes disturbed" by excluding them from the provisions of the Uniform Code. Every single one of our major military commanders over the world has filed a statement to this effect in this case. We should not substitute our views as to this necessity for the views of those charged with the responsibility of the protection of such far-flung outposts of the free world. The former minority, however, repudiates this underlying basis of the opinion in Toth, namely, that where disciplinary measures are necessary to the regulation of the armed forces the Congress does have constitutional power to make rules. In my opinion the rules it has made are necessary to the regulation of the land and naval forces and the means chosen, the Uniform Code, is in no way an unreasonable one.

There remains the further consideration of whether this provision is "`the least possible power adequate to the end proposed.'" United States ex rel. Toth v. Quarles, supra, at 23. This is the strict standard by which we determine the scope of constitutional power of Congress to authorize trial by court-martial. A study of the problem clearly indicates that the use of the Uniform Code of Military Justice was really the only practicable alternative available.

While it was conceded before this Court that Congress could have established a system of territorial or consular [354 U.S. 1, 87] courts to try offenses committed by civilian dependents abroad, the action of four of my brothers who would overrule and two who would impair the vitality of In re Ross, supra, places this alternative in jeopardy. Territorial courts have been used by our Government for over a century and have always received the sanction of this Court until today. However, in the light of all of the opinions of the former minority here, the use of a system of territorial or consular courts is now out of the question. Moreover, Congress probably had concluded to abandon this system before the Uniform Code was adopted, since a short time thereafter the jurisdiction of the last of our territorial or consular courts was terminated. 70 Stat. 773.

Another alternative the Congress might have adopted was the establishment of federal courts pursuant to Article III of the Constitution. These constitutional courts would have to sit in each of the 63 foreign countries where American troops are stationed at the present time. Aside from the fact that the Constitution has never been interpreted to compel such an undertaking, it would seem obvious that it would be manifestly impossible. The problem of the use of juries in common-law countries alone suffices to illustrate this. Obviously the jury could not be limited to those who live within the military installation. To permit this would be a sham. A jury made up of military personnel would be tantamount to the personnel of a court-martial to which the former minority objects. A jury composed of civilians residing on the military installation is subject to the same criticism. If the jury is selected from among the local populace, how would the foreign citizens be forced to attend the trial? And perchance if they did attend, language barriers in non-English-speaking countries would be nigh insurmountable. Personally, I would much prefer, as did Mrs. Madsen, that my case be tried before a [354 U.S. 1, 88] military court-martial of my own countrymen. Moreover, we must remember that the agreement of the foreign country must be obtained before any American court could sit in its territory. In noncommon-law countries, if such courts were permitted to sit — a doubtful possibility — our jury system would be tossed about like a cork on unsettled waters.

Likewise, trial of offenders by an Article III court in this country, perhaps workable in some cases, is equally impracticable as a general solution to the problem. The hundreds of petty cases involving black-market operations, narcotics, immorality, and the like, could hardly be brought here for prosecution even if the Congress and the foreign nation involved authorized such a procedure. Aside from the tremendous waste of the time of military personnel and the resultant disruptions, as well as the large expenditure of money necessary to bring witnesses and evidence to the United States, the deterrent effect of the prosecution would be nil because of the delay and distance at which it would be held. Furthermore, compulsory process is an essential to any system of justice. The attendance of foreign nationals as witnesses at a judicial proceeding in this country could rest only on a voluntary basis and depositions could not be required. As a matter of international law such attendance could never be compelled and the court in such a proceeding would be powerless to control this vital element in its procedure. In short, this solution could only result in the practical abdication of American judicial authority over most of the offenses committed by American civilians in foreign countries.

The only alternative remaining — probably the alternative that the Congress will now be forced to choose — is that Americans committing offenses on foreign soil be tried by the courts of the country in which the offense is committed. Foreign courts have exclusive jurisdiction [354 U.S. 1, 89] under the principles of international law and many nations enjoy concurrent jurisdiction with the American military authorities pursuant to Article VII of the Agreement Regarding Status of Forces of Parties to the North Atlantic Treaty. 4 Where the American military authorities do have jurisdiction, it is only by mutual agreement with the foreign sovereign concerned and pursuant to carefully drawn agreements conditioned on trial by the American military authorities. Typical of these agreements was the one concluded between the United States and Japan on February 28, 1952, and in force at the time one of these cases arose. Under this and like agreements, the jurisdiction so ceded to the United States military courts will surely be withdrawn if the services are impotent to exercise it. It is clear that trial before an American court-martial in which the fundamentals of due process are observed is preferable to leaving American servicemen and their dependents to the widely varying standards of justice in foreign courts throughout the world. Under these circumstances it is untenable to say that Congress could have exercised a lesser power adequate to the end proposed.


My brothers who are concurring in the result seem to find some comfort in that for the present they void an Act of Congress only as to capital cases. I find no distinction in the Constitution between capital and other cases. In fact, at argument all parties admitted there could be no valid difference. My brothers are careful not to say that they would uphold the Act as to offenses less than capital. They unfortunately leave that decision for [354 U.S. 1, 90] another day. This is disastrous to proper judicial administration as well as to law enforcement. The Congress and the Executive Department are entitled to know whether a court-martial may be constitutionally utilized to try an offense less than capital. If so, then all that is necessary is to eliminate capital punishment insofar as Article 2 (11) offenses are concerned. I deeply regret that the former minority does not, now that it has become the majority, perform the high duty that circumstance requires. Both the Congress and the Executive are left only to conjecture as to whether they should "sack" Article 2 (11) and require all dependents to return and remain within this country or simply eliminate capital punishment from all offenses under the Article. The morale of our troops may prevent the former and certainly the abstention of this Court prohibits the latter. All that remains is for the dependents of our soldiers to be prosecuted in foreign courts, an unhappy prospect not only for them but for all of us.

[Footnote 1] The Court was composed of Chief Justice Taft and Associate Justices Holmes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Sanford, and Stone. Mr. Justice Van Devanter wrote the opinion for the Court.

[Footnote 2] An interesting and authoritative treatment of court-martial jurisdiction over camp followers is found in Blumenthal, Women Camp Followers of the American Revolution (1952). It points out many instances where women, not in the armed services, were subjected to a court-martial long after the war had ended. This was not taken to be an "astronomical doctrine" either in our forces or abroad.

[Footnote 3] In this connection see "Madsen v. Kinsella — Landmark and Guidepost in Law of Military Occupation," by John M. Raymond, Assistant Legal Adviser, Department of State, 47 Am. J. Int'l L. 300 (1953).

[Footnote 4] NATO Status of Forces Agreement, T. I. A. S. 2846 (signed in London on July 19, 1951), 4 U.S. Treaties and Other International Agreements 1792. [354 U.S. 1, 91]