America‘s fighting men have come in many guises, shapes and sizes. They have had to fight all of America’s enemies, both foreign and domestic. Cadet Webster Smith had to fight his own senior officers, friends, and mentors. In the end he was proud. He had fought the good fight. Even TIME magazine carried the quote of the first cadet in Coast Guard history to be tried by a General Court-martial.
Less than 60 days after the verdict was rendered in the Webster Smith case, I predicted that the case would make it all the way to the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court justices are not elected. They are appointed with the advice and consent of the Congress. The Nine Justices of the Supreme Court are the least democratic branch of the federal government. They have no constituency. They do not have to conform to the biases of the majority. They are the Court of Last Resort; so, they are infallible. With few exceptions, they have dealt evenhandedly with all of America’s citizens.
They do not have to sit for re-election. They are appointed for life. They are totally isolated from busy bodies on the Right or Left Side of the political spectrum. With one stroke of the pen, they may act to curb injustices, correct unsavory attitudes, and breathe new life into a living Constitution.
Historically we have looked to them to solve our most vexing social problems. They are America’s ultimate arbiters of justice; and, that includes military justice.
Aside from the Webster Smith Case, I cannot think of any case or incident in Coast Guard history that affected more directly the hearts, minds, and daily lives of all members of the United States Coast Guard.
The U.S. Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals had to review the Webster Smith case. It had no choice. Article 66 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, requires the Coast Guard Criminal Appeals Court to review all cases of trial by court-martial in which the sentence as approved by the Convening Authority extends to dismissal of a cadet from the Coast Guard, and/or a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge, unless the accused waives appellate review. Webster Smith did not waive appellate review. He appealed his conviction. Oral argument in the Case of The Appeal of the Court-martial Conviction of Cadet Webster Smith was scheduled for January 16, 2008 in Arlington, Virginia.
A legal brief filed by his lawyers claimed the convictions should have been thrown out because the defense team was not allowed to fully cross-examine one of his accusers during Smith’s court martial. They said that meant the jury didn’t hear testimony that the accuser, a female cadet, Shelly Roddenbush, had once had consensual sex with a Coast Guard enlisted man and then called it sexual assault. If she lied once, she very well could have lied again.
The Coast Guard Court of of Criminal Appeals is made up of Coast Guard Officers. It has the power to decide matter of both fact and law. Decisions of the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals may be appealed to the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces (CAAF). It is made up of five civilian judges, appointed to 15 year terms. It decides only issues of law. Its decisions may be appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court. The Webster Smith Case followed this long and winding path all the way to the Supreme Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the appeal of Webster Smith. The justices declined to hear the case without comment.
Webster Smith was proud of his decision to fight the good fight all the way to the end of the road. See TIME magazine June 29, 2006.