Strait v. Laird

LOCATION: Christian County, Kentucky

DOCKET NO.: 71-83
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 406 US 341 (1972)
ARGUED: Mar 22, 1972
DECIDED: May 22, 1972

Erwin N. Griswold - for respondents
John T. Hansen - for petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Strait v. Laird

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 22, 1972 in Strait v. Laird

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Strait against Laird.

Mr. Hansen, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

John T. Hansen:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

This case involves the right of a reserve member of the armed services to obtain prompt judicial review of a decision by the army denying his request for conscientious objector discharge.

The case arises on its particular facts which are typical with those facts found in unattached reservists cases.

The facts have cause in decision below and a conflict among the circuits with respect to certain unresolved question of federal court jurisdiction.

Because the facts are so important, I would like to elaborate a bit on the petitioner in this case, Lieutenant Johnny Strait who was born and raised in San Francisco, California was a member of the Army ROTC at the University of California at Davis and he received the commission as a Reserve Second Lieutenant upon his graduation.

Although his two-year active duty obligation was deferred in order that he could go to law school which he did over the next three years in Yale University.

And after graduating from law school, he returned to his home in San Francisco in order to take California Bar Exam with Army permission.

And it was while he was at home waiting to take the bar exam that he had a series of personal events in his life including a suicide of a very close cousin, caused him to realize that he held beliefs and conscience that made it impossible for him to fulfill his military obligation.

According to him, he requested that he be discharged from the Army Reserve on grounds of conscientious objection.

In pursuant to applicable army regulations, a series of interviews and a hearing were held in a Fort Ord, California, a large army base near San Francisco.

The results of those interviews in that hearing which were favorable to Lieutenant Strait's claim were forwarded to a Board of Officers at the Army Reserve Components Personnel Center in Indianapolis, Indiana, where the board concluded after reviewing the record that Lieutenant Strait did not meet the criteria of the regulation recommended against granting the discharge.

He was notified of that decision and informed that he would be required to proceed as previously ordered in the week to active duty at Fort Gordon, Georgia.

Who made the final decision Mr. Hansen, that within the army?

John T. Hansen:

Apparently, although the regulation is not specifically clear on this, that decision is delegated to the Commanding Officer of the Reserve Components Personnel Center by the Secretary of the Army.

That's at Fort Benjamin Harrison?

John T. Hansen:

Yes, that's correct.

He is the Commander of the -- essentially of that installation or that portion of that installation.

When he learned of the adverse decision, he immediately petitioned for review of that action in the Federal District Court in San Francisco.

The Government moved to dismiss on the grounds of Commanding Officer of the Reserve Center that was not present in the district and therefore, the Court did not have jurisdiction.

That motion was denied but the Court ultimately on the merits denied relief to the Lieutenant Strait and consequently both sides appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The Ninth Circuit initially affirmed to District Court's jurisdictional finding but reversed it on the merits finding unanimously that there was no basis in fact in the record to support the army's denial of Lieutenant Strait's request for discharge.

Shortly thereafter, this Court last Term decided the case of Schlanger against Seamans.

Now, on that basis, the Government petitioned the Court of Appeals for rehearing and that petition was granted in the Court of Appeals on the authority of Schlanger, ordered the entire proceedings dismissed.

And that is the decision which is now before this Court.

It raises a number of questions.

There are two principal questions.

The first is whether in order for a District Court to have habeas corpus jurisdiction, both the petitioner and his custodian must be physically present in that district.

The second question is whether habeas corpus is the only remedy available to a serviceman, seeking to obtain judicial review of a denial of the request for discharge.