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Armed Services

Military Ban On Homosexuality, The Branches Of The Armed Services, Sexual Harassment In The Armed Services

The Constitution authorizes Congress to raise, support, and regulate armed services for the national defense. The President of the United States is commander in chief of all the branches of the services and has ultimate control over most military matters.

The United States has always been wary of maintaining a strong military force. This concern was shown by the Framers of the Constitution when they finally allowed the creation of a standing army but at the same time limited the process by which money could be raised to support the military, by requiring that Congress review the appropriations every two years. In this way, the Framers ensured that members of each new Congress had the opportunity to address their lingering concerns about domestic tyranny with a fresh perspective. Furthermore, the Framers ensured that the states could maintain their own militias and protect themselves from federal military domination, by recognizing "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms" (U.S. Const. amend. 2).

The various branches of the armed services were created at different times to serve different purposes. The earliest branch was the Army, instituted on July 14, 1775, followed closely by the Navy and the Marine Corps in the same year. All three were established to respond to the needs of the revolutionary forces fighting the British. The Navy and the Marine Corps were disbanded after the Revolutionary War but were reestablished in 1798. The Coast Guard traces its origins to 1790 but was officially created in 1915. Finally, the Air Force had its genesis in the Signal Corps of the Army and was formally established as the Army Air Service in 1920.

Military personnel are governed by a set of laws that is separate from and independent of CIVIL LAW. The UNIFORM CODE OF MILITARY JUSTICE (10 U.S.C.A. § 801 et seq.) outlines the basic laws and procedures governing members of the armed services. MILITARY LAW is mainly concerned with maintaining order and discipline within the ranks. It is unrelated to MARTIAL LAW, which is the temporary imposition of military rule during a national or regional crisis. Offenses committed by members of the armed services are tried by a COURT-MARTIAL, a special tribunal created specifically to hear a military case and then disbanded once judgment and punishment are pronounced.

The constitutionality of the military legal system has been challenged several times, without success. In 1994, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the constitutionality of the system with a unanimous decision in Weiss v. United States, 510 U.S. 163, 114 S. Ct. 752, 127 L. Ed. 2d 1. At issue were the selection process and tenure of military judges, who are chosen by their branch's JUDGE ADVOCATE general. The plaintiffs claimed that because the judges could be removed at any time by the judge advocate general, they were biased toward the prosecution and could not be impartial. The Court held that sufficient safeguards were in place to protect against improper influence by the judge advocate general and that the defendants' FIFTH AMENDMENT DUE PROCESS rights had not been violated.


Shanor, Charles A., and L. Lynn Hogue. 1996. Military Law in a Nutshell. St. Paul, Minn.: West.

Winthrop, William. 2000. Military Law and Precedents. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein.

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