Georgetown Law
Georgetown Law Library

National Security Law Research Guide

This guide covers U.S. military, espionage, homeland security, and classification/declassification law.

Courts, Military Tribunals, and Case Law

  1. Courts and Military Tribunals. To understand the precedential value of any military case law your research uncovers, it is necessary to understand the hierarchy of tribunals in the military justice system.
    1. Trial-Level Tribunals
      Criminal cases against members of the U.S. armed services are tried by courts-martial, while cases against non-U.S. citizens in the war against terrorism ("enemy combatants") are tried by military commissions. More information about military commissions andCombatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) is available from the Department of Defense.
    2. Lower Appellate Tribunals
      Over the last century, there have been several different lower appellate bodies to hear appeals from courts-martial. Since decisions of now-defunct appellate bodies may still be binding on current courts, it is important to be familiar with each of the different military appellate bodies that has existed.
      1. 1994 to present: Courts of Criminal Appeals. Appeals from courts-martial may currently be made to the Courts of Criminal Appeals. There are a total of four such courts, one for each branch of the military: Army, Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard. All four sit in Washington, D.C.
      2. 1968-1994: Courts of Military Review. The Courts of Military Review. These courts had the same structure and jurisdiction as the current Courts of Criminal Appeals (one for each of the four service branches); only their names have been changed.
      3. Before 1968: Boards of Review. The first Review Board was established by the Judge Advocate General in 1918. In 1920 Congress established a similar Board of Review as an Article I court. A Board of Review and Judicial Council was established in 1948, but it was replaced in 1951 when the Uniform Code of Military Justice established separate Boards of Review for each service. These Boards still review cases in which the court-martial sentence is death, dishonorable discharge, or confinement in a penitentiary.
    3. Intermediate Appellate Courts
      1. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
        This civilian court replaced the U.S. Court of Military Appeals in 1995. It hears appeals from all four (Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy) Courts of Criminal Appeals. The decisions of this court may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by writ of certiorari.
      2. U.S. Court of Military Appeals. This civilian court, which existed from 1951 to 1995, reviewed decisions of the four (Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy) Courts of Military Review. Its jurisdiction was limited to legal questions. The Court of Military Appeals was replaced by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
    4. U.S. Supreme Court
      The Military Justice Act of 1983, P.L. 98-209, 97 Stat. 1393, gave the U.S. Supreme Court authority to review decisions from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces by writ ofcertiorari.
  2. Military Tribunal Procedural Rules.
    1. Courts-Martial
      Procedural rules for courts-martial are found in The Manual for Courts-Martial, which contains the Rules for Courts-Martial and the Military Rules of Evidence.
      1. Print Version: 5th Floor, [ KF7625 .A852 ]
      2. Free online version (2012)
      3. Westlaw: FMIL-MCM
      4. Lexis: Legal > Area of Law - By Topic > Military Law > Find Statutes, Regulations, Administrative Materials, & Court Rules > 2008 Manual for Courts-Martial
      5. Legal and Legislative Basis, Manual for Courts-Martial United States (1951)
        PDF of book providing a brief history of the drafting of the Manual for Courts-Martial. Includes discussion of the legal and legislative considerations that went into the Manual's drafting.
    2. Military Commissions
      Procedures for trial by military commission of non-U.S. citizen enemy combatants are published in 32 C.F.R. pts. 9 - 18. The Department of Defense has more informationabout Combatant Status Tribunals. For more information on the C.F.R. (Code of Federal Regulations), see part VII.B. of this research guide, below.
    3. Military Rules of Evidence Manual [4th floor, KF7628 .S25 2003]
  3. Other Federal Courts. Non-military justice cases relating to national security issues (such as treaty interpretation, constitutional law, federal criminal law, and civil liberties) are heard by the general federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals, and U.S. District Courts. For more information on these courts and where you can find their decisions, see the Library's Case Law Research Guide and our Digests Research Guide.
  4. Case Law.
    1. West's Federal Practice Digest [ KF127 .F31 1989 ] 
      The Federal Practice Digest
       arranges federal case summaries (with citations to the many of the full text case reporters described below) within a subject outline. Each topic-and-key-number pair represents a legal issue, so that if you look up the digest volume containing a particular topic and key number, you will find summaries of cases that have addressed the issue represented by that topic and key number. It is also possible to search many of Westlaw's case databases by topic and key number; combine the topic number and key number to make one search term, e.g. 258Ak550. Below is a brief, selective list of topics and key numbers under which military justice and national security cases are summarized in the Federal Practice Digest. You may find other relevant topics and key numbers by searching the Digest's Descriptive Word Index.
      1. Topic: Military Justice (Westlaw topic number 258A)
        k. 550 - k. 869: Punishable offenses
        k. 870 - k. 919: Courts-Martial
        k. 1380 - k. 1459: Review of courts-martial
        k. 1480 - k. 1481: Review by civilian courts
      2. Topic: War and National Emergency (Westlaw topic number 402)
        k. 10 - Effect of war on pre-existing civil rights, liabilities, and remedies
        k. 30 - Military occupation, control, and conquest of territory
        k. 31 - Military government and martial law
        k. 32 - Courts-martial and other military or intelligence courts, commissions, or tribunals
        k. 47 - Control of communications
        k. 49 - Rights of aliens
        k. 51 - Restrictive measures applicable to nationality groups
    2. Case Reporters and Databases.
      1. Military Justice.
        1. Reporters. There have been many military justice reporters over the last century. Not all of them are available in the Georgetown University Law Library. Below is a list of the major reporters and databases with descriptions of their coverage and listings of the local libraries that hold them, if any:
          1. West's Military Justice Reporter [KF7625 .A513]
            Includes decisions of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces and the U.S. Court of Military Appeals; the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Navy Courts of Criminal Appeals; and the Courts of Military Review. Citation: M.J. Coverage: 1975 - date.
          2. Court Martial Reports [KF7625 .A5]
            Published decisions of the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Navy Courts of Criminal Appeals; and the Courts of Military Review. Replaced by West's Military Justice Reporter. Citation: C.M.R. Coverage: 1951-1975.
          3. Decisions of the U.S. Court of Military Appeals [KF7667 .A5].
            Published cases of the United States Court of Military Appeals. Also includes its own index. Citation: C.M.A. Coverage: 1951-1975
          4. Judge Advocate General's Corps Board of Review and Judicial Council Holdings, Opinions, and Reviews. [KF7634 .J9].
            Selected opinions of the Boards of Review, includes indexes. Coverage: 1929 - 1951.
          5. Reports of decisions from World War II Boards of Review for each theater. During World War II there were separate boards of review for each war theater. The decisions from each theater were published separately in the publications listed below:
            1. Holdings and Opinions, Board of Review, Branch Office of the Judge Advocate General, European Theater of Operations. Coverage: 1943-1946.
              Libraries: Library of Congress; Catholic University Law Library [microform].
            2. Holdings and Opinions, Board of Review, Branch Office of the Judge Adocate General, China-Burma-India, India-Burma Theater.
              Coverage: 1943-1945.
              Libraries: Catholic University Law Library [microform].
            3. Holdings, Opinions and Reviews, Board of Review, Branch Office of the Judge Advocate General, North African Theater of Operations, Mediterranean Theater of Operations.
              Coverage: 1943-1945.
              Libraries: Catholic University Law Library [microform].
            4. Holdings, Opinions and Reviews, Board of Review, Branch Office of the Judge Advocate General, Southwestern Pacific Theater of Operations.
              Coverage: 1942-1946.
              Libraries: No known local library holdings.
            5. Holdings, Opinions and Reviews, Board of Review, Branch Office of the Judge Advocate General, Pacific Ocean Theater of Operations.
              Coverage: 1944-1945.
              Libraries: No known local library holdings.
        2. Westlaw: Federal Military Law Cases: FMIL-CS.
          Coverage: all U.S. federal courts, including those courts and tribunals whose cases are published in Court Martial Reports and Military Justice Reporter. Dates of coverage vary by court, but the earliest is 1789.
        3. Lexis: Federal Military Law Cases: Legal > Area of Law - By Topic > Military Law > Find Cases. Coverage: separate databases for each court, with differing dates of coverage, but the earliest is 1856. It is also possible to search general federal court cases back to 1789 under Legal > Cases - U.S.
      2. Other National Security Law Issues. For information about the reporters and databases that contain decisions of non-military federal courts, see the Library's Case Law Research Guide.