The filling of a judicial vacancy provides a unique opportunity to examine not only the appointment or election process, but also the court itself and its work. For obvious reasons, this has been recognized in connection with the Supreme Court of the United States,1 where vacancies are often the subject of much conjecture but, because of life tenure, remain essentially unpredictable. On a less lofty plane, the opportunity to take stock also occurs in other courts, and the timing, at least, is less a matter of speculation in non-Article III courts, where judges serve for fixed terms.
A case in point is the expiration of Chief Judge Andrew S. Effron’s term on the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (referred to here as the Court of Appeals) on September 30, 2011. It is appropriate to consider the process for filling his seat; the standards that, based on the law and past experience, must, could, or should not be taken into account in choosing a successor; and the possible impact on the court and its jurisprudence.
While national security law covers a broad swath, military justice is a key component, since good order and discipline are integral to a credible military capacity, and notwithstanding the remarkable trend towards the use of high technology in national defense, uniformed personnel – human beings – and their conduct (both actual and desired) remain the heart of the matter. Hence, the filling of Judge Effron’s seat is properly viewed as potentially impacting on national security.
In his celebrated concurring opinion in The Steel Seizure Case, Justice Jackson cautioned that “only Congress itself can prevent power from slipping through its fingers.” Jackson’s warning seems especially pertinent today, as we prepare urgently for cyber warfare – facing potentially enormous threats from yet unknown enemies, and finding ourselves dependent on staggeringly complex, unproven technology. The executive branch, which has special expertise and agility in national security matters generally, as well as substantial constitutional authority, has taken the initiative in these preparations. Yet if Congress is to be faithful to the Framers’ vision of its role in the nation’s defense, it must tighten its grip and play a significant part in the development of policies for war on a digital battlefield. It also must enact rules to help ensure that these policies are carried out.
In the course of just a few decades, information technology has become an essential component of American life, playing a critical role in nearly every sector of the economy. Consequently, government policy affecting information technology currently emanates from multiple agencies under multiple authorities – often with little or no coordination. The White House’s Cyberspace Policy Review (the Review) wisely recognized that the first priority in improving cybersecurity is to establish a single point of leadership within the federal government and called for the support of Congress in pursuit of this agenda.
Congressional involvement in some form is inevitable, but there is considerable uncertainty as to what Congress needs to do and whether it is capable of taking action once it decides to do so. With an agenda already strained to near the breaking point by legislation to address health care reform, climate change, energy, and financial regulatory reform – as well as the annual appropriations bills – the capacity of Congress to act will depend, in some part, on the necessity of action. For the last eight years, homeland security has dominated the congressional agenda. With the memory of the terrorist attacks of September 11 becoming ever more distant, there may be little appetite for taking on yet another major piece of complex and costly homeland security legislation.
Part I of this article considers the question of necessity. The Homeland Security Act,2 the Federal Information Security Management Act,3 the Communications Act,4 and any number of other statutes provide substantial authorities over federal and nonfederal information infrastructure.5