I. 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.
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 of certiorari.
Intermediate Appellate Courts
1995 to Present: 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-Marine) Courts of Criminal Appeals. The decisions of this court may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by writ of certiorari.
1951-1995: 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-Marine) 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.
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.
1994-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-Marine, and Coast Guard. All four sit in Washington, D.C.
1968-1994: 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.
Prior to 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.
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 is available from the Department of Defense.
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.
II. Military Tribunal Procedural Rules
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.
III. Case Law
Selected Topics and Key Numbers
Military Justice (Westlaw topic number 258A)
War and National Emergency (Westlaw topic number 402)
Case Reporters & Databases
Westlaw: Military Court Cases
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. Coverage: 1951-Present.
Lexis: All Military & Veterans Law Cases
All available cases from any Federal or state court pertaining to military & veterans law. Coverage: 1789-Present.
West's Military Justice Reporter (print)
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:1975-2012.
Court-Martial Reports:Holdings and Decisions of the Judge Advocates General, Boards of Review, and United States Court of Military Appeals (print)
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.
Decisions of the U.S. Court of Military Appeals (print)
Published cases of the United States Court of Military Appeals. Also includes its own index. Citation: C.M.A. Coverage: 1951-1975.