Justice Thomas stands alone in push for Supreme Court to take on military rape case

Throughout his time on the Supreme Court bench, Justice Clarence Thomas has always shown a willingness to stand alone when he believes that justice demands it.

That trait was on stunning display again this week when Thomas criticized his colleagues for deciding not to hear a lawsuit from a former West Point cadet.

Court declines case

According to the Washington Examiner, the plaintiff, identified as Jane Doe, alleged that she had been the victim of sexual assault in 2010 at the hands of a fellow cadet at the New York military academy.

Doe’s attorneys argued that West Point bore some responsibility on the grounds that its policies were “inadequate to protect students from sexual violence,” the Examiner reported.

But the Supreme Court’s majority chose not to take the case, deciding that Doe’s claims were precluded from being brought by a precedent set in the 1950 case Feres v. United States, which held that injuries stemming from military service were not legally actionable.

Thomas, for his part, disagreed with the majority’s rejection, contending in a dissent that the plaintiff would be permitted to sue under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

Thomas doubles down

Thomas went on to say that the SCOTUS had unnecessarily created a measure of legal ambiguity, since by not taking the case, the court had passed up on an opportunity to clarify exactly who is barred from taking civil action and under what circumstances.

“Under our precedent, if two Pentagon employees — one civilian and one a servicemember — are hit by a bus in the Pentagon parking lot and sue, it may be that only the civilian would have a chance to litigate his claim on the merits,” he argued, according to the Examiner. He suggested the Feres case set a “precedent that is demonstrably wrong” and lamented the opportunity to overturn it, as Fox News reported.

Thomas also took issue with the idea that the woman’s injury was service-related, remarking: “One might be concerned to find out that a student’s rape is considered an injury incident to military service.”

Scholars weigh in

An amicus brief submitted by a group of legal scholars disagreed with the majority’s decision, as well. “The only thing connecting Ms. Doe’s rape to military service was her enrollment at West Point,” they said, according to the Examiner.

Like Thomas, the group argued that the Supreme Court’s incident-to-service exception is illegitimate as it “finds no support in the text of the FTCA.”

It also charged that the doctrine “has been interpreted increasingly broadly to include any injury that an active service member suffers at the hands of the government — no matter how far removed from his or her actual military duties.”

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8 Responses

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  2. Is the Supreme Court saying that I, as a member of the armed forces cannot another member of the armed forces? i.e. I’m lying in my upper cot and another soldier comes in drunk, falls into my bunk bed, and knocks me off my bed. As a result, I fall to the floor and suffer severe injuries, I can’t sue that soldier?

    1. No, they are saying you can’t sue the GOVERNMENT! It is a ridiculous argument in BOTH cases however. In neither Ms. Doe’s case, nor in your hypothetical was the “injury” due to, or in the course of, your performing your military duty. I do not believe that was the intent of the Feres case mentioned above. It WOULD logically apply if one were injured as a direct result of one’s duty – for instance, while driving or riding in a military vehicle, one is injured. You could not sue the government over any injuries. But THIS case , and your hypothetical has absolutely NOTHING to do with performing one’s duties. Justice Thomas is correct, the rest of them are flat out wrong!

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  4. Whoever wrote this article is a bit confused. Was the victim a Cadet at the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point or at the New York Military Academy (NYMA) in Cornwall, just a few miles away?

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