Ernst introduces bill to develop pipeline of qualified attorneys to practice military law

Joni Ernst

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced legislation last week to strengthen the military justice system by giving military attorneys access to a career path that prepares them to litigate cases in the courtroom and enhances their knowledge of military law.

Under the bill, each branch of the military would be directed to establish a career litigation track for their Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, which consist of military personnel who are also licensed attorneys and which provide legal services for all levels of the military.

“The lack of specialized JAG litigators that currently exists in many branches of our military is an injustice to our service members who may be hindered from receiving the best trial possible,” Ernst, a combat veteran and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said. “Improving our military justice system will ensure victims of sexual assault and other crimes receive legal advice from well-qualified, experienced JAG’s in the military justice system. Our service members — both victims and defendants — deserve the best.”

JAG officers benefit from courtroom experience, and the bill aims to establish a pipeline for developing qualified litigators that are well-versed in U.S. military law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who introduced the bill with Ernst, said service members and the public deserve access to a military justice system that upholds the Constitution, provides due process and protects survivors’ rights.

“Because JAGs transfer so frequently, most do not gain the necessary experience to try cases, defend the accused or represent a survivor adequately,” Gillibrand said. “Moreover, JAGs are encouraged to have a broad range of experience, which means that a JAG who has very little experience trying cases may be assigned to a complex sexual assault case. Our service members deserve better. Our bill will change that and model the military justice system after the civilian system where lawyers become experts in their fields.”