Gillibrand vs. McCaskill: Fighting the Invisible War


  • Anneke Olson Tulane University


This case examines the competing legislative plans of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-M.O.) to address the intolerable levels of sexual assault in the U.S. Armed Forces. In November 2013, Gillibrand proposed the Military Justice Improvement Act (SB 967), which sought to remove the prosecution of sexual assault cases from the military chain of command. McCaskill, in contrast, proposed reforming the present military justice system in her more moderate Victims Protection Act of 2014 (SB 1917). As the debate between the two women escalated, Gillibrand garnered support from numerous feminist organizations, sexual assault victims, and fellow senators from both political parties. Despite a valiant effort, Gillibrand failed to overcome a Senate filibuster by McCaskill in early March 2014. The Military Justice Improvement Act died on the Senate floor. This case reviews the opposing legislation against a backdrop of the history of the U.S. military justice system, the evolving issue of sexual assault in the U.S. Armed Forces, and the goal of the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues to improve the lives of women and families through bipartisan collaboration. Further, it discusses the impact of the conflict between Gillibrand and McCaskill on the future of women’s leadership within the U.S Senate.