Articles Posted in Military Law

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A state court may not order a veteran to indemnify a divorced spouse for the loss in the spouse’s portion of the veteran’s retirement pay caused by the veteran’s waiver of retirement pay to receive service-related disability benefits. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act authorizes states to treat veterans’ “disposable retired pay” as community property divisible upon divorce, 10 U.S.C. 1408, excluding amounts deducted from that pay “as a result of a waiver . . . required by law in order to receive” disability benefits. In their divorce, Sandra was awarded 50% of John’s future Air Force retirement pay, which she began to receive when John retired. Years later, the Department of Veterans Affairs found that John was partially disabled due to an earlier service-related injury. To receive disability pay, John gave up an equivalent amount of retirement pay, 38 U.S.C. 5305. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed a family court order that Sandra receive her full 50% regardless of the waiver. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed. John’s military pay was subject to a future contingency. State courts cannot “vest” that which they lack the authority to give. Family courts remain free to consider the contingency that some military retirement pay might be waived or consider reductions in value when calculating or recalculating the need for spousal support. View "Howell v. Howell" on Justia Law

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The Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to set annual goals for contracting with service-disabled and other veteran-owned small businesses, 38 U.S.C. 8127(a). The “Rule of Two” provides that a contracting officer “shall award contracts” by restricting competition to veteran-owned small businesses if the officer reasonably expects that at least two such businesses will submit offers and that “the award can be made at a fair and reasonable price.” A contracting officer “may” use noncompetitive and sole-source contracts for contracts below specific dollar amounts. In 2012, the Department used the Federal Supply Schedule (FSS), a streamlined method for acquisition of goods and services under prenegotiated terms, to procure medical center Emergency Notification Services from a non-veteran-owned business. The agreement ended in 2013. A service-disabled-veteran-owned small business filed a Government Accountability Office (GAO) bid protest, alleging that the Department procured multiple contracts through the FSS without employing the Rule of Two. The GAO determined that the Department’s actions were unlawful. The Department declined to follow the GAO’s nonbinding recommendation. The Federal Circuit held that the Department was only required to apply the Rule when necessary to satisfy its annual goals. The Supreme Court reversed, first holding that it had jurisdiction because the controversy is “capable of repetition, yet evading review.” Section 8127(d)’s contracting procedures are mandatory and apply to all of the Department’s contracting determinations. An FSS order is a “contract” within the ordinary meaning of that term and does not fall outside Section 8127(d). The Court rejected an argument that the Rule of Two will hamper mundane Government purchases as misapprehending current FSS practices, which have expanded beyond simple procurement to contracts concerning complex services over a multiyear period. View "Kingdomware Techs., Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Vandenberg Air Force Base is a designated a “closed base.” Civilians may not enter without express permission. The Air Force has granted an easement over areas of the Base, so that two public highways traverse the Base. One highway has an adjacent area designated for peaceful protests. The Base commander enacted rules to control the protest area and issued an advisory that anyone who fails to adhere to those policies may be barred from entering the Base. Apel was barred from the Base for trespass and vandalism, but continued to enter the protest area and was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. 1382, prohibiting reentry of a “military... installation” after having been ordered not to do so “by any officer or person in command.” The district court rejected his defense that the section does not apply to the protest area. The Ninth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded. A “military ... installation” encompasses the commanding officer’s area of responsibility, including Vandenberg’s highways and protest area. Section1382 does not require exclusive possession and control. Although the highways and protest area are outside fenced areas on the Base, the entire Vandenberg property is under the administration of the Air Force. Although the Base commander has occasionally closed the highways to the public for security purposes or when conducting a military launch, section 1382 does not require base commanders to make continuous, uninterrupted use of a place within their jurisdiction, lest they lose authority to exclude certain individuals. View "United States v. Apel" on Justia Law

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Kebodeaux was convicted by special court-martial of a federal sex offense. After serving his sentence and receiving a bad-conduct discharge from the Air Force, he moved to Texas where he registered with state authorities as a sex offender. Congress later enacted the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), which requires federal sex offenders to register in the states where they live, study, and work, 42 U.S.C. 16913(a). SORNA applies to offenders who, when SORNA became law, had completed their sentences. When Kebodeaux moved within Texas and failed to update his registration, the federal government prosecuted him and the district court convicted him under SORNA. The Fifth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that SORNA’s registration requirements, as applied to Kebodeaux, fall within the scope of congressional authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause. Congress did not apply SORNA to an individual who was, before its enactment, “unconditionally released,” but to an individual already subject to federal registration requirements. SORNA somewhat modified registration requirements to which Kebodeaux was already subject, to make more uniform "a patchwork of federal and 50 individual state registration requirements." At the time of his offense and conviction, Kebodeaux was subject to the Wetterling Act, which imposed similar registration requirements and was promulgated under the Military Regulation Clause (Art. I, s. 8, cl. 14), and the Necessary and Proper Clause. The same power that authorized Congress to promulgate the Uniform Code of Military Justice and punish Kebodeaux’s crime also authorized Congress to make the civil registration requirement at issue a consequence of conviction. Imposing a civil registration requirement that would apply upon the release of an offender like Kebodeaux is “eminently reasonable,” as is assignment of a special role to the federal government in ensuring compliance with federal sex offender registration requirements. View "United States v. Kebodeaux" on Justia Law

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Vandenberg Air Force Base is a designated a “closed base.” Civilians may not enter without express permission. The Air Force has granted an easement over areas of the Base, so that two public highways traverse the Base. One highway has an adjacent area designated for peaceful protests. The Base commander enacted rules to control the protest area and issued an advisory that anyone who fails to adhere to those policies may be barred from entering the Base. Apel was barred from the Base for trespass and vandalism, but continued to enter the protest area and was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. 1382, prohibiting reentry of a “military... installation” after having been ordered not to do so “by any officer or person in command.” The district court rejected his defense that the section does not apply to the protest area. The Ninth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded. A “military ... installation” encompasses the commanding officer’s area of responsibility, including Vandenberg’s highways and protest area. Section1382 does not require exclusive possession and control. Although the highways and protest area are outside fenced areas on the Base, the entire Vandenberg property is under the administration of the Air Force. Although the Base commander has occasionally closed the highways to the public for security purposes or when conducting a military launch, section 1382 does not require base commanders to make continuous, uninterrupted use of a place within their jurisdiction, lest they lose authority to exclude certain individuals. View "United States v. Apel" on Justia Law

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Kebodeaux was convicted by special court-martial of a federal sex offense. After serving his sentence and receiving a bad-conduct discharge from the Air Force, he moved to Texas where he registered with state authorities as a sex offender. Congress later enacted the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), which requires federal sex offenders to register in the states where they live, study, and work, 42 U.S.C. 16913(a). SORNA applies to offenders who, when SORNA became law, had completed their sentences. When Kebodeaux moved within Texas and failed to update his registration, the federal government prosecuted him and the district court convicted him under SORNA. The Fifth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that SORNA’s registration requirements, as applied to Kebodeaux, fall within the scope of congressional authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause. Congress did not apply SORNA to an individual who was, before its enactment, “unconditionally released,” but to an individual already subject to federal registration requirements. SORNA somewhat modified registration requirements to which Kebodeaux was already subject, to make more uniform "a patchwork of federal and 50 individual state registration requirements." At the time of his offense and conviction, Kebodeaux was subject to the Wetterling Act, which imposed similar registration requirements and was promulgated under the Military Regulation Clause (Art. I, s. 8, cl. 14), and the Necessary and Proper Clause. The same power that authorized Congress to promulgate the Uniform Code of Military Justice and punish Kebodeaux’s crime also authorized Congress to make the civil registration requirement at issue a consequence of conviction. Imposing a civil registration requirement that would apply upon the release of an offender like Kebodeaux is “eminently reasonable,” as is assignment of a special role to the federal government in ensuring compliance with federal sex offender registration requirements. View "United States v. Kebodeaux" on Justia Law

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The Federal Tort Claims Act waives sovereign immunity from tort suits, 28 U. S. C. 1346(b)(1), except for certain intentional torts, including battery; it originally afforded tort victims a remedy against the government, but did not preclude suit against the alleged tort-feasor. Agency-specific statutes postdating the FTCA immunized certain federal employees from personal liability for torts committed in the course of official duties. The Gonzalez Act makes the FTCA remedy against the U.S. preclusive of suit against armed forces medical personnel, 10 U. S. C. 1089(a), and provides that, “[f]or purposes of this section,” the FTCA intentional tort exception “shall not apply to any cause of action arising out of a negligent or wrongful act or omission in the performance of medical ... functions.” Congress subsequently enacted the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act, which makes the FTCA remedy against the government exclusive for torts committed by federal employees acting within the scope of their employment, 28 U. S. C. 2679(b)(1); federal employees are shielded without regard to agency or line of work. Levin, injured as a result of surgery performed at a U. S. Naval Hospital, sued the government and the surgeon, asserting battery, based on his alleged withdrawal of consent shortly before the surgery. Finding that the surgeon had acted within the scope of his employment, the district court released him and dismissed the battery claim. Affirming, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the Gonzalez Act served only to buttress the personal immunity granted military medical personnel and did not negate the FTCA intentional tort exception. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The Gonzalez Act section 1089(e) abrogates the FTCA intentional tort exception, allowing Levin’s suit against the U.S. alleging medical battery by a Navy doctor acting within the scope of employment. The operative clause states, “in no uncertain terms,” that the FTCA intentional tort exception “shall not apply,” and confines the abrogation to medical personnel employed by listed agencies. View "Levin v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Stolen Valor Act makes it a crime to falsely claim receipt of military decorations or medals and provides an enhanced penalty if the Congressional Medal of Honor is involved, 18 U. S. C. 704 (b),(c). After pleading guilty to falsely claiming that he had received the Medal of Honor, Alvarez challenged the Act as unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit held that the Act is invalid under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court affirmed. Characterizing the law as a content-based restriction on protected speech, the Court applied the “most exacting scrutiny.” Falsity alone does not take speech outside the First Amendment. While the government’s interest in protecting the integrity of the Medal of Honor is beyond question, the First Amendment requires a direct causal link between the restriction imposed and the injury to be prevented; that link was not established. The government had no evidence that the public’s general perception of military awards is diluted by false claims or that counter-speech, such as the ridicule Alvarez received online and in the press, would not suffice to achieve its interest. The law does not represent the “least restrictive means among available, effective alternatives.” The government could likely protect the integrity of the military awards system by creating a database of Medal winners accessible and searchable. Dissenting Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas viewed the Act as significantly limited and necessary to the important governmental objective. View "United States v. Alvarez" on Justia Law

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Respondent filed an action under the False Claims Act ("FCA"), 31 U.S.C. 3730(e)(4)(A), alleging that his former employer had submitted hundreds of false claims for payment under its federal contracts. At issue was whether a federal agency's written response to a request for records under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. 552, constituted a "report" within the meaning of the public disclosure bar. The Court held that a federal agency's written response to a FOIA request for records constituted a "report" within the meaning of the FCA's public disclosure bar where a "report," in this context, carried its ordinary meaning; where the Labor Department's three written responses in this case, along with the accompanying records produced to respondent's wife, were "reports" within the public disclosure bar's ordinary meaning; where the Court was not persuaded by assertions that it would be anomalous to read the public disclosure bar to encompass written FOIA responses; and whether respondent's suit was "based upon... allegations or transactions" disclosed in the reports at issue was a question to be resolved on remand.