On 28 January 2008, the President signed into law Public Law No. 110-181, one provision of which authorized three-star status for the Judge Advocates General of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. In that legislation’s wake, some legal maneuvering arose over what had to happen before the Judge Advocates General pinned on their third star, as we discussed here and here. Finally, on 11 December 2008, the last of DOD’s two-star Judge Advocates General — Major General Black — was promoted to lieutenant general.
Congress’s insistence that the Judge Advocates General have three-star status had nothing to do with military justice. Rather, as discussed in this column by Professor Vic Hansen, the change arose to correct a perceived imbalance between the authority of the Judge Advocates General and civilian politically appointees on issues such as detention policy, military commission rules, limits on interrogations, and Geneva Convention applicability. But there was no tension between the Judge Advocates General and civilian political appointees regarding military justice because that system is largely within the purview of the former.
Nevertheless, the elevation of the Judge Advocates General to three-star status will no doubt produce some collateral consequences for military justice. Presumably the Judge Advocates General will now win some small battles over resources and personnel that they might have lost when they sported only two stars on their collars. This is likely to arise not because they can big foot someone as a three star whom they couldn’t as a two star, but rather because they will have greater access to information and decision makers as a consequence of being invited to three-star-minimum meetings and receiving other forms of enhanced bureaucratic entrée.
We’ll look for signs of increased Judge Advocate General influence in 2009.