The Senate denied a vote for the Military Justice Improvement Act yesterday, blocking the act for the second time this year.
A bipartisan group of senators approached the senate floor yesterday to push for the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), spearheaded by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), but it failed to come to a vote. Gillibrand was hoping the Act would be added as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, but said that she will push for it as a stand-alone bill, and is even prepared to urge President Obama to take executive action. The bill would combat recently released data from a Pentagon report showing little progress over the past year in preventing sexual assault in the military by making it easier for survivors to report assault and eliminating retaliation for those who do report. The bill fell short of being passed by only five votes earlier this year.
The MJIA would move the decision to prosecute military sexual assault outside the chain of command and give it to trained, independent professional military prosecutors. “The Department of Defense has failed on this issue for over 20 years now,” Senator Gillibrand said yesterday, “and the data shows they still don’t get it.” She continued “Why should our service members enjoy a lesser standard of justice and fairness than you and I, whose freedoms they risk everything to protect?”
The need for reform was emphasized by Col. Don Christensen (Ret.), former Chief Prosecutor of the Air Force, who called the current process an “ineffective, broken system of justice,” that “undermines the military I love.” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) agreed, saying “What we’re doing now is not working.”
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who led the objection to the bill, said he feared that it would undermine the authority of commanders in the military, although Sen. Gillibrand clarified that this bill would only affect the top 3 percent of commanders.
Media Resources: C-SPAN Senate Hearing on Military Sexual Assault 12/11/14; Department of Defense Report to the President on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response 11/25/14; Senator Kirsten Gillibrand Press Office 12/3/14; Reuters 12/2/14