As the crisis of sexual assaults within the U.S. military has intensified, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has pushed for a new policy that would place these assault cases in the hands of prosecutors, not commanders, who would decide which cases to pursue. The proposal has come up several times in recent months, but has struggled to overcome filibusters.
Gillibrand and her allies thought they had a real shot at success today, but once again, the super-majority just wasn’t there.
Military commanders will keep their authority over sexual assault prosecutions, after the Senate blocked a proposal to radically overhaul the way the military justice system deals with serious crimes.This is a major setback for New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, who has spent much of the last year holding hearings, talking to survivors, and collecting support for her proposal, which would have removed decisions about serious crimes like sexual assault from the chain of command and placed it with military prosecutors. The vote on whether to move forward failed to cross the 60 vote threshold, 55-45.
Note, the bill had 55 supporters – a clear majority – but because obstructionism has become the norm, Gillibrand needed five more senators. Also keep in mind that while most Democrats supported the bill and most Republicans voted against it, there was some crossover, and the final breakdown did not fall neatly along partisan lines.
The Senate, however, considered another bill on the subject this afternoon that fared far better.
Immediately after filibustering Gillibrand’s bill, the chamber moved to Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo.) alternative policy, which would leave prosecutorial decisions within the chain of command, but a senior military officer would review decisions by commanders who choose not to prosecute sexual assault cases.
The cloture vote on the McCaskill passed 100 to 0.
As Meredith Clark noted, the timing of the debate helped crystalize its significance.
The votes took place as two sexual assault court martials are beginning. The court martial of Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair began Tuesday. Sinclair faces charges that he forced a female junior officer to perform oral sex on him and threatened to kill her family. He admitted guilt on several lesser charges related to inappropriate sexual relationships, but pleaded not guilty to the assault and threat charges. Former U.S. Naval Academy football player Joshua Tate’s court martial is scheduled to begin March 14. Tate and two teammates faced allegations that they sexually assaulted a female midshipman at a 2012 party. Charges were dropped against those two men.
We also learned this morning that the Army’s top prosecutor for sexual assault cases has been suspended – allegedly groped a lawyer who worked for him, Stars and Stripes reported.