Parker v. Levy

LOCATION: Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters

DOCKET NO.: 73-206
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 417 US 733 (1974)
ARGUED: Feb 20, 1974
DECIDED: Jun 19, 1974

Charles Morgan, Jr. - for appellee
Robert H. Bork - for appellants

Facts of the case


Media for Parker v. Levy

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 20, 1974 in Parker v. Levy

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 19, 1974 in Parker v. Levy

Warren E. Burger:

The disposition of 73-206, Parker against Levy, will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

In this case, appeelle was an army physician with the rank of Captain.

He was assigned to a hospital at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

In 1967, he was convicted by a General Court Martial of violations of Articles 90, 133 and 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

His Article 90 conviction was for willfully disobeying the hospital commandant's order to establish a training program for Special Forces aide men.

His convictions under 133 and 134, which respectively punished conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman and all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces, were for making public statements which urged Negro enlisted men to refuse to obey orders to go to Vietnam and which referred to Special Forces personnel as liars, thieves, killers of peasants, and murderers of women and children.

After exhausting available military review, he sought habeas corpus relief from the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

He claimed among other things that both Articles 133 and 134 were void for vagueness under the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment and overbroad in violation of the First Amendment.

The District Court denied relief, but the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed.

That Court held that even though appellee's own conduct fell within one of the examples of Article 134 violations contained in the Manual for Courts-Martial, appellee had standing to challenge both that Article and Article 133 on its face.

The Court of Appeals went on to hold that both articles were void for vagueness and that a new trial was necessary because the joint consideration of the charges under those articles with the Article 90 charge might have prejudiced appellee's right to a fair trial.

We reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

We first hold that Articles 133 and 134 are not unconstitutionally vague.

Each article has been construed by military authorities to limit the broad reach of its language and to provide examples of the conduct it prohibits.

Because of the fact there is differentiating military from civilian society, Congress may legislate with greater breadth and flexibility when establishing rules governing the military and the vagueness standard applicable to criminal statutes regulating economic affairs applies to such rules.

Since appellee could have had no doubt that his own statements violated both Articles 133 and 134, his vagueness challenge must fail.

We also hold that Articles 133 and 134 are not overbroad.

The necessity for obedience and consequently for discipline in the military makes permissible there, what would not be permissible in the civilian contact.

There is a wide range of conduct to which Articles 133 and 134 maybe applied without infringing the First Amendment, because appellee's own conduct falls clearly within that range.

We will not invalidate either Article 133 or Article 134 at his behest because there may be marginal applications of them which would infringe First Amendment values.

Finally, we reject appellee's contention that his Article 90 conviction should be invalidated because to carry out the hospital commandant's order would have been to participate in a war crime and because the order was given with knowledge that it would be disobeyed, solely to increase appellee's punishment.

Appelle's remaining contentions which were not passed upon by the Third Circuit should be addressed in the first instance by the Court of Appeals following our reversal and remand.

Mr. Justice Blackmun, with whom the Chief Justice joins while joining the opinion of the Court, has filed a concurring statement.

Justice Douglas has filed a dissenting opinion and Mr. Justice Stewart has filed a dissenting opinion which he will announce.

Potter Stewart:

As my brother Rehnquist has said, I have filed a dissenting opinion in this case, which Mr. Justice Douglas and Mr. Justice Brennan have joined.

The Court today, reversing a unanimous judgment of the Court of Appeals, upholds the constitutionality of the two so-called general articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

I find it hard to imagine criminal statutes more patently unconstitutional than these vague and uncertain general articles, and I would, accordingly, affirm the judgment before us.

As many decisions of this Court make clear, vague statutes suffer from at least two fatal constitutional defects; first, by failing to provide fair notice of precisely what acts are forbidden, a vague statute violates the first essential of due process of law.

No one may be required at peril of life, liberty or property to speculate as to the meaning of criminal statutes.

All are entitled to be informed as to what the State commands or forbids.