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U.S. Supreme Court

Schlesinger v. Councilman, 420 U.S. 738 (1975)

Schlesinger v. Councilman

No. 73-662

Argued December 10, 1974

Decided March 25, 1975

420 U.S. 738


After court-martial charges were preferred against respondent Army captain for the sale, transfer, and possession of marihuana, he brought suit in Federal District Court to enjoin petitioner military authorities from proceeding with the court-martial. The District Court granted a permanent injunction, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, on the ground that the offenses charged were not "service-connected" and hence were not within court-martial jurisdiction. Petitioners contend in this Court (1) that any federal question jurisdiction that the District Court might have had under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 had been removed by Art. 76 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which provides that court-martial proceedings "are final and conclusive" and that "all action taken pursuant to those proceedings [is] binding upon all . . . courts . . . of the United States," and (2) that the District Court improperly intervened in a pending court-martial proceeding.


1. Article 76 does not stand as a jurisdictional bar to respondent's suit, and the District Court had subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, assuming the requisite jurisdictional amount. Pp. 420 U. S. 744-753

(a) The general rule that "the acts of a court martial, within the scope of its jurisdiction and duty, cannot be controlled or reviewed in the civil courts, by writ of prohibition or otherwise," Smith v. Whitney, 116 U. S. 167, 116 U. S. 177, is subject to its own qualification that the court-martial's acts be "within the scope of its jurisdiction and duty," and hence collateral relief from the consequences of a court-martial judgment is not barred if the judgment was void. Pp. 420 U. S. 746-748.

(b) The finality clause of Art. 76 does no more than describe the terminal point for proceedings within the court-martial system, Gusik v. Schilder, 340 U. S. 128, and the legislative history of the article does not support a conclusion that it was intended to confine collateral attack on court-martial proceedings in Art. III courts exclusively to habeas corpus. Pp. 420 U. S. 748-753.

Page 420 U. S. 739

2. When a serviceman charged with crimes by military authorities can show no harm other than that attendant to resolution of his case in the military court system, the federal district courts must refrain from intervention, by way of injunction or otherwise. There is nothing in the circumstances of this case to outweigh the strong considerations favoring exhaustion of remedies within the military court system or to warrant intruding on the integrity of military court processes, which were enacted by Congress in the UCMJ in an attempt to balance the unique necessities of the military system against the equally significant interest of ensuring fairness to servicemen charged with military offenses. Pp. 420 U. S. 753-760.

481 F.2d 613, reversed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, and in Part II of which DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J.,filed a statement concurring in the judgment, post, p. 420 U. S. 761. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which DOUGLAS and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 420 U. S. 762.

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