Court of Military Appeals

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In the Uniform Code of Military Justice, enacted in the aftermath of world war ii, Congress established the Court of Military Appeals (COMA). A civilian body, whose three judges serve for fifteen-year terms, COMA reviews questions of law arising in certain serious court-martial cases. COMA, which heard its first case in 1951, has never been part of the federal judiciary. The whole military justice system, COMA included, is part of the governance of the armed forces. Since 1983, however, many of COMA's decisions have been reviewable by the Supreme Court on petition for certiorari. Whether or not such a review has taken place, a person in custody as a result of a court-martial decision can apply for habeas corpus in a federal district court. (See military justice.)

Like many another judicial or military institution, COMA has sought to expand its jurisdiction. It has developed a notion of its own "inherent powers," which it has used to nudge the military justice system toward increasing resemblance to the civilian system of criminal justice, notably by tightening the requirements of procedural fairness. Although some military officers have strongly criticized COMA's "constitutionalizing" innovations, most proposals for statutory restoration of the old order have died in congressional committees.

Kenneth L. Karst


Willis, John T. 1972 The Constitution, the United States Court of Military Appeals and the Future. Military Law Review 57:27–97.

——1972 The United States Court of Military Appeals: Its Origin, Operation and Future. Military Law Review 55:39–93.

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Court of Military Appeals

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