Solorio v. United States
483 U.S. 435 (1987)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Solorio v. United States, 483 U.S. 435 (1987)

Solorio v. United States

No. 85-1581

Argued February 24, 1987

Decided June 25, 1987

483 U.S. 435

Syllabus

A general court-martial was convened under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (Code) in New York, where petitioner was serving in the Coast Guard, to try him for the sexual abuse of fellow coastguardsmen's minor daughters in his privately owned home in Alaska during a prior tour of duty. The Code empowers courts-martial to try servicemen for such crimes. However, the court granted petitioner's motion to dismiss on the ground that it lacked jurisdiction under O'Callahan v. Parker,395 U. S. 258, which held that a military tribunal may not try a serviceman charged with a crime that has no "service connection," and Relford v. Commandant, U.S. Disciplinary Barracks,401 U. S. 355, which enumerated numerous factors to be weighed in determining whether an offense is service-connected. The Coast Guard Court of Military Review reversed the dismissal and reinstated the charges, and the Court of Military Appeals affirmed, concluding that the Alaska offenses were service-connected within the meaning of O'Callahan and Relford.

Held: The jurisdiction of a court-martial depends solely on the accused's status as a member of the Armed Forces, and not on the "service-connection" of the offense charged. Thus, O'Callahan is overruled. The plain meaning of Art. I, § 8, cl. 14, of the Constitution -- which grants Congress plenary power "[t]o make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces" -- supports the military status test, as was held in numerous decisions of this Court prior to O'Callahan.O'Callahan's service-connection test is predicated on the Court's less-than-accurate reading of the history of court-martial jurisdiction in England and in this country during the 17th and 18th centuries, which history is far too ambiguous to justify the restriction on Clause 14's plain language which the Court imported to it. Clause 14 answers concerns about the general use of military courts for the trial of ordinary crimes by vesting in Congress, rather than the Executive, authority to make rules for military governance. The Clause grants Congress primary responsibility for balancing the rights of servicemen against the needs of the military, and Congress' implementation of that responsibility is entitled to judicial deference. That civil courts are "ill-equipped" to establish policies regarding matters of military concern is substantiated

Page 483 U. S. 436

by the confusion evidenced in military court decisions attempting to apply the service-connection approach, even after Relford. Pp. 483 U. S. 438-451. 21 M.J. 251, affirmed.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, POWELL, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post p. 483 U. S. 451. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, and in all but the last paragraph of which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post p. 483 U. S. 452.

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