Was the Senate Right to Block Gillibrand's Bill?

The New York senator's bill on military sexual assault failed to overcome a filibuster.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., listens Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks to reporters during a news conference about a bill regarding military sexual assault cases on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.,Tuesday, July 16, 2013.

Critics of the Military Justice Improvement Act thought it went too far.

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Senators on Thursday struck down a bill that would strip military commanders of their authority to decide which cases of rape and sexual assault to prosecute. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., the champion of the bill, was just five votes short of securing the 60 needed to overcome a Senate filibuster.

Critics of the Gillibrand's Military Justice Improvement Act are vehemently opposed to breaking the military chain of command. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said on the Senate floor, “You can’t mess with the chain of command.” Pentagon leaders, among the bill’s most vocal critics, agree that something should be done about sexual assault in the military, but argued that Gillibrand's bill is not the answer. 

[Debate Club: Is Kirsten Gillibrand Right on How to Address Sexual Assault in the Military?]

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a strong opponent of Gillibrand’s bill, proposed a measure that would prevent service members from using the so-called “good soldier” defense, a controversial procedure that allows members of the military to offer records of good conduct to prove their innocence. The bill has cleared a procedural vote and is expected to proceed to a final vote on Monday, the Washington Post reports.

Congress began an inquiry into sexual assault in the military after the Pentagon released data on the issue last year. The New York Times reported that as of September 2013, about 1,600 sexual assault cases hadn’t concluded criminal investigations and others were still awaiting action from commanders.

Proponents of Gillibrand's bill say the current system prevents victims of sexual assault from coming forward, as those who committed the crime are often superiors. In testimony, Gilibrand has said:

I think what we need so urgently is transparency, and accountability, and an objective review of facts by someone who knows what they’re doing, who is trained to be a prosecutor, who understand[s] prosecutorial discretion.


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