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Parker v. Levy - 417 U.S. 733, 94 S. Ct. 2547 (1974)

Rule:

The proper standard of review for a vagueness challenge to the articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice is the standard that applies to criminal statutes regulating economic affairs because of the factors differentiating military society from civilian society. 

Facts:

Appellee Army officer, who was a physician, refused to obey orders to train Special Forces aide men, made public statements urging African American enlisted men not to go to Vietnam if ordered to do so, and characterized Special Forces personnel as liars, thieves, killers of peasants, and murderers of women and children. The officer was convicted by a general court-martial of violations of: (1) Article 90 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for willfully disobeying a lawful command of a superior officer, (2) Article 133 of the Code for "conduct unbecoming an officer or gentleman," and (3) Article 134 of the Code for "disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces" not otherwise specifically mentioned in the Code. After exhausting avenues of relief under military law, the officer sought federal habeas corpus relief in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, which denied relief. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed, holding that Articles 133 and 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice were void for vagueness, even though the officer's conduct fell within military authorities' construction of the Articles' coverage. 

Issue:

Are Articles 133 and 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice void for vagueness?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court reversed on appeal, holding that neither Article 133 nor Article 134 was void for vagueness under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, since each Article had been construed by military authorities in such a manner as to at least partially narrow its otherwise broad scope and to supply considerable specificity by way of examples of covered conduct. Because of the differentiations between military society and civilian society, Congress was permitted to legislate with greater breadth and flexibility when prescribing rules governing the military. As such, the Army officer could not successfully attack the Articles for vagueness since, under construction of the Articles by military authorities, he could have had no reasonable doubt that his public statements urging African American enlisted men not to go to Vietnam if ordered to do so were punishable under the Articles. Lastly, the Supreme Court ruled that Articles 133 and 134 were not facially invalid because of overbreadth under the First Amendment, the fundamental necessity for obedience and discipline rendering permissible within the military that which would be constitutionally impermissible outside it, and the Articles, as construed by military authorities, prohibiting a wide range of easily identifiable and constitutionally proscribable conduct.

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