CAAF decided the Air Force case of United States v. Janssen, No 14-0130/AF, __ M.J. __ (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Tuesday, April 15, 2014, finding that Congress did not give the Secretary of Defense the authority to appoint a civilian as an appellate military judge. CAAF finds that the Secretary’s action appointing to the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals one Mr. Soybel (a civilian litigation attorney employed by the Air Force who is also a retired Air Force judge advocate who served as an appellate military judge while on active duty), rather than recalling him to active duty to return to the CCA, was invalid.
Judge Stucky writes for a unanimous court.
As a civilian, Judge Soybel (as he is repeatedly referred to in CAAF’s opinion) was first appointed to the AFCCA by the Judge Advocate General of the Air Force on January 25, 2013. He promptly got to work, participating in numerous cases, including Janssen. However, on May 23, 2013, the CCA recalled all of those cases. Then, on June 25, 2013, the Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum that re-appointed Judge Soybel to the CCA, and he again participated in numerous cases, again including Janssen. The CCA refused to reconsider those cases, and Janssen appealed to CAAF.
Judge Soybel’s appointment was presumably made to assist with the backlog at the AFCCA, and together the backlog and the appointment issue were our #9 military justice story of 2013. But CAAF summarily remanded numerous cases over the summer due to concerns with the appointment, and then on December 19, 2013, it granted review in Janssen and ordered expedited briefing on a single issue:
Whether the civilian judge on Appellant’s Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals panel was properly appointed. See U.S. Const. Article II, Section 2, Clause 2; 10 U.S.C. § 113 (2012); 5 U.S.C. § 3101 (2012).
CAAF also granted numerous trailers (I’m tracking eight: Jones, Grawey, Annis, Burns, Johnson, Dixon, Albright, and Peacock). But the controversies continued to mount, as CAAF rejected the Government’s brief of the granted issue in an order that stated:
On consideration of Appellee’s brief and its January 15, 2014, letter to the Clerk, [citing supplemental authority] we find that they insufficiently address the assigned issue and Appellant’s argument. . . .
The Government submitted a second brief that surveyed the legal landscape and posed the ultimate question for who has the power to make such an appointment of “if not the Secretary of Defense, then whom?” Gov’t Second Br. at 13. Judge Stucky answers, “the President”:
The conclusion is clear: While Congress certainly has the authority under the Appointments Clause to authorize the Secretary of Defense to appoint appellate military judges, either through general legislation granting authority to appoint inferior officers or specific legislation granting authority to appoint appellate military judges, it has not done so. This being the case, the appointment of Judge Soybel was required to be done by the President with Senate advice and consent, which is the default method for the appointments of inferior officers. See Edmond, 520 U.S. at 660. Since this was not done, his appointment as an appellate military judge is invalid and of no effect.
Slip op. at 13.