Almost every year – when a writing piece is deemed worthy – the National Institute of Military Justice (NIMJ) awards the Kevin J. Barry Award for Excellence to its writer. The award is named after the founder and longtime director of NIMJ, an outstanding scholar and peerless advocate of reform.
The award was created to recognize substantial scholarship and entries are evaluated for excellence in military legal studies. The winner is selected by a committee of law professors and practitioners with the notion of NIMJ’s mission to improve public understanding of military justice.
In September, Lt. Cmdr. Jacob Meusch was selected to receive the 2019 award for his piece, "A ‘Judicial’ System in the Executive Branch: Ortiz v. United States and the Due-Process Implications for Congress and Convening Authorities."
“Deciding on an important issue was relatively easy. For as long as I have served in the Navy, Congress has scrutinized, debated, and reformed the military justice system. It is impossible to ignore the modern debate. And at the heart of that debate is the role of the convening authority,” Meusch said.
He wrote the article while he was working on his Master of Laws at the University of Virginia School of Law in 2018. At that point in time, he had been practicing law for eight years, had specialized in military justice, and was taking an "operational pause" from the daily demands of litigation practice. Meusch’s time as a student gave him an opportunity to examine structural issues in military justice from a distance, and he hoped to write something that would provide a meaningful contribution to an important issue.
“As I approached my research and writing, I intentionally took no position on the question of what role a convening authority should play in the military justice system. In my mind, that question was too political for a uniformed service member like me to address. Instead, my intent was to write something that could serve as a useful reference for participants in the modern debate,” Meusch said.
Meusch was born and raised in Atkinson, Neb. He received a Bachelor of Arts in organizational communication from Creighton University in May 2007 and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Iowa College of Law in May 2010. He also holds a master’s in defense and strategic studies from the U.S. Naval War College and a Master of Laws from the University of Virginia School of Law in May 2019. While in law school, he was an editor for the Iowa Law Review.
Meusch reported to Region Legal Service Office (RLSO) Mid-Atlantic in Norfolk, Virginia, in December 2010 where he served as a legal assistance and defense attorney. In June 2013, he reported to RLSO Japan Branch Office Sasebo and served as the Branch Head and Staff Judge Advocate to Commander, Fleet Activities Sasebo.
In July 2015, Meusch transferred to the Navy and Marine Corps Appellate Review Activity. Meusch first served as a law clerk for the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals and later as an appellate defense counsel. While serving as an appellate defense counsel, he received the Recent Alumni Award from the University of Iowa College of Law.
Currently, Meusch is the deputy litigation section head, Military Justice Officer-in-Charge and Detailed Defense Counsel in United States v. Hadi al Iraqi; one of three pre-trial military commissions on Guantanamo Bay.
Meusch reacted with surprise followed by gratitude when he found out about the award. “I wasn't sure anyone would read the article after I wrote it. When I received the announcement from the National Institute of Military Justice, I was incredibly grateful to learn that not only had someone read it, but the Barry Writing Award Committee found it thought-provoking and worthy of recognition. The opportunity to pursue a writing project like this would not have been possible without the opportunity that the Navy JAG Corps leadership gave me to study at the University of Virginia School of Law,” Meusch said.
“My hope is that my article is remembered for making a meaningful contribution to an important issue. Beyond that, I would offer one point of emphasis.”
Meusch is qualified as a Military Justice Specialist I. His personal awards include two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals and the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal. He has also received the Burton Award for Distinguished Legal Writing in 2011 and the National Institute of Military Justice's Kevin J. Barry Writing Award in 2019.
“To promote justice within the military justice system it is necessary to balance accountability and independence. This balance requires space for participants in the military justice system, convening authorities included, to carry out their respective roles with independence,” Meusch said.
“The Supreme Court touched on this point more than 25 years ago in Weiss v. United States when it described the Judge Advocates General as protectors of judicial independence who had ‘no interest in the outcome of a particular court-martial.' The Court reaffirmed its belief in the judicial character of the court-martial system two years ago in Ortiz v. United States. But that judicial character will only continue to exist to the degree that uniformed lawyers are willing to protect the independence of the military justice system and all of its participants," Meusch concluded.