Hess v. Laird – Women’s Rights – CCR Docket 1975

This is an action by a Marine corporal and his wife challenging the constitutionality of the Marine Corps regulation prohibiting wives of corpsmen from visiting husbands stationed in the Western Pacific (not Vietnam) more  than once during a tour of duty, or for longer than 60 days. Should a wife disobey this regulation, her  husband  gets transferred (as Hess did), court-martialed or fined .

Center attorneys claimed that this is a denial of the wife’s right to travel freely and an unlawful extension of military authority over a civilian. In addition, the order  is a due process violation in that it punishes one party (the husband) for the acts of another (the wife).

The suit, brought in Federal District Court in Washing­ ton, D.C. was unsuccessful in the District and an appeal was taken to the Court of Appeals. The case was argued before Chief Judge David Bazelon and Judges Leventhal and Robin­son on September 10, 1973.

The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed the District Court’s decision which had granted summary judg­ment to the government. It held that the government had the burden of factually demonstrating that the combat readiness
of Marine was enhanced by prohibiting wives from visiting their Marine spouses for over 60 days.

The Case finally went to trial in August of 1974. We presented only one witness, a Marine Corps attorney, who testified regarding the harmful effects on Marine Corps morale of the 60 day rule. He detailed the extensive use of drug and alcohol that resulted from the rule and the adverse effect the rule had on marriages.

The government’s chief witness was the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Cushing. One of his positions was that the wives of Marines were little girls who could not han­dle their own affairs if left in Japan on their own. It was also brought out on examination that all of the other services had combat ready troops in the Pacific and had no need for the 60 day rule. By the end of his testimony it was clear that we had won the case.

The judge did not even wait for briefs, but ruled in our favor from the bench and declared the 60 day rule un­ constitutional.

The government appealed the case, but while the appeal was pending, the Marine Corp rescinded the 60 day rule. Therefore, spouses of Marines serving in the Western Pacific may travel freely and stay as long as they  like

Janice Goodman and Michael Ratner with Alan Dranitzke and  Eric Seitz