Military Courts

Military Courts in the United States

Military Courts Definition


In English law, military courts include the ancient court of chivalry and modern court-martial.


The constitutional provision of Article I, Section 8, Clause 14 allows Congress to provide for the regulation of the conduct of members of the armed forces under a separate, noncivil legal code. The present-day system of military justice has developed over more than 230 years. Today, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, enacted by Congress in 1950, and the Military Justice Acts of 1968 and 1983 are the principal statutes that set out the nation’s military law.

The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims

Acting under its power (Article I, Section 8, Clause 9) to “constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court,” Congress created the Court of Veterans Appeals in 1988 and changed its name in 1999 to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. This newest court in the federal judiciary is composed of a chief judge and up to six associate judges, all appointed by the President and approved by the Senate to 15-year terms.

The court has the power to hear appeals from the decisions of an administrative agency, the Board of Veterans Appeals in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Thus, this court hears cases in which individuals claim that the VA has denied or otherwise mishandled valid claims for veterans’ benefits. Appeals from the decisions of the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims can be taken to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

For information on this court of appeals, click here.

Military Commissions

The Defense Department has created several military commissions, court like boards of usually five commissioned officers. These tribunals are not a part of the courts-martial system. They are, instead, separate structures set up to try “enemy combatants,” including several hundred suspected terrorists captured by American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Most of these suspects are presently held in a military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where their trials were begun in 2004 and are expected to continue for at least another year. Their ranks include several hundred alleged members of al Qaida and a number of other foreigners said to have committed violent acts against the United States.

The President provided for the creation of these tribunals by executive order. His power to do so came from:

  • his constitutional role as commander in chief, and
  • the fact that Congress has authorized him to use “all necessary and appropriate force” to combat global terrorism.

Military tribunals have been established at various times in America’s past–most notably during the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, and World War II. Until now, President Franklin Roosevelt had created the most recent one, in 1942. It tried eight Nazi saboteurs, who were landed on the East Coast by German submarines. They had planned various acts of sabotage aimed at the disruption of this nation’s war effort. All eight were convicted. Six were executed; the other two, who had turned on their comrades and cooperated with the tribunal, were sentenced to long terms in prison.

Military Courts: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Military Courts. This part provides references, in relation to Military Courts, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Military Courts by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Military Courts and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Military Courts or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Military Courts and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Military Courts. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Military Courts should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Military Courts when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

*This resource guide is updated frequently. However, if you notice something is wrong or not working, or any resources that should be added, please notify us in any of the "Leave a Comment" area.

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