Navy JAG History

Judge Advocate General’s Corps

In 1775, the Continental Congress enacted the Articles of Conduct, governing the ships and men of the Continental Navy. However, all of these ships were soon sold and the Navy and Marine Corps were disbanded. In July 1797, Congress authorized the construction of six ships and enacted the Rules for Regulation of the Navy as a temporary measure. Then, in 1800 Congress enacted a more sophisticated code adopted directly from the British Naval Code of 1749. There was little or no need for lawyers to interpret these simple codes, nor was there a need for lawyers in the uncomplicated administration of the Navy prior to the Civil War.

Washington Navy Yard, D.C., Lithograph Published Circa 1862

Washington Navy Yard, D.C., Lithograph Published Circa 1862

During the Civil War, however, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles named a young assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia to present the government’s case in complicated courts-martial. Without any statutory authority, Secretary Welles gave Wilson the title of “Solicitor of the Navy Department,” making him the first House Counsel to the U.S. Navy. By the Act of March 2, 1865, Congress authorized the President “To appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, for service during the rebellion and one year thereafter, an officer of the Navy Department to be called the ‘Solicitor and Naval Judge Advocate General.’” Congress maintained the billet on a year-to-year basis by amendments to the Naval Appropriations Acts. In 1870, Congress transferred the billet to a newly established Justice Department with the title of Naval Solicitor.

Colonel William Butler Remey, USMC, was the first uniformed chief legal officer of the Navy, in 1878. Colonel Remey was able to convince Congress that the Navy Department needed a permanent uniformed Judge Advocate General and that naval law was so unique it would be better to appoint a line officer of the Navy or Marine Corps. The bill to create the billet of Judge Advocate General of the Navy was signed in 1880.

The Naval Appropriations Act of 1918 elevated the billets of Navy Bureau Chiefs and Judge Advocate General to Rear Admiral. In July 1918, Captain George Ramsey Clark was appointed the first Judge Advocate General to hold the rank of Rear Admiral.

In 1947, the Navy created a “law specialist” program to allow line officers restricted duty to perform legal services. By the Act of May 5, 1950, Congress required that the Judge Advocate General be a lawyer. The Act also required each Judge Advocate General of any service be a member of the bar with not less than eight years of legal duties as a commissioned officer. The Act also enacted the first Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). By 1967, the Navy had 20 years of experience with the law specialist program. There was, however, increasing pressure to create a separate corps of lawyers. That year, Congress established the Judge Advocate General’s Corps within the DoN. The legislation was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on December 8, 1967, and ensured Navy lawyers’ status as members of a distinct professional group within the Navy, similar to physicians and chaplains.

Legalman Rating

Legalman Insignia

On January 4, 1972, Secretary of the Navy John H. Chafee approved the recommendation for establishment of the Legalman rating. A memorandum from the Chairman of the Rating Review Board announced the approval, stating in part, “…the scope of the new rating will provide judge advocates with the personnel trained in court reporting, claims matters, investigations, legal administration, and legal research. This scope is in consonance with the new concept in the civilian legal community where many areas of legal services can be provided by competent trained personnel under the supervision of a lawyer…” On October 4, 1972, 275 petty officers were selected for conversion to the new Legalman rating.

In 2007, the Legalman education and training pipeline was adapted in order to fully train Legalmen as paralegals. The Naval Justice School’s (NJS’s) curriculum was adapted to include four American Bar Association- (ABA-) approved paralegal college courses. Legalmen now leave NJS with 10 semester hours of college in paralegal studies.

Today, the Judge Advocate General directs a worldwide organization of more than 730 judge advocates, 30 limited duty officers (law), 630 enlisted and nearly 275 civilian personnel. The JAG provides legal and policy advice to the Secretary of the Navy in all legal matters concerning military justice, administrative law, environmental law, ethics, claims, admiralty, operational and international law, litigation and legal assistance.

JAG Corps Insignia

mill rinde

The history of the distinctive JAG Corps insignia, which incorporates the mill rinde, is shown to the right. In ancient France, the fer de moline, or mill rinde, was a symbol of equal justice for all under the law. The two counterbalancing oak leaves are identical and connote the scales upon which justice is weighed. Oak leaves denote a corps and symbolize strength, particularly the strength of the oak-timbered hulls of the early American Navy ships. In the milling of grains, the mill rinde was used to keep the stone-grinding wheels an equal distance apart to provide consistency in the milling process. Thus, it symbolizes the wheels of justice that must grind exceedingly fine and exceptionally even. In the 16th century, the mill rinde was adopted in England as a symbol for lawyers and later brought to America.

History At A Glance

  • 1775

    Continental Congress enacts Articles of Conduct.
  • 1797

    Congress enacts Rules for Regulation of the Navy.
  • Civil War

    Secretary of the Navy names first House Counsel.
  • 1865

    President Abraham Lincoln appoints Solicitor and Naval Judge Advocate General.
  • 1870

    Congress transfers billet to Justice Department with title of Naval Solicitor.
  • 1878

    Colonel William Butler Remey, USMC, is first uniformed chief legal officer of the Navy.
  • 1880

    Judge Advocate General of the Navy billet is created.
  • 1918

    Billets of Navy Bureau Chiefs and Judge Advocate General elevated to Rear Admiral.
  • 1918

    Capt. George Ramsey Clark is appointed first Judge Advocate General to hold the rank of Rear Admiral.
  • 1946

    Naval Justice School (NJS) is established at Port Hueneme, CA.
  • 1950

    Judge Advocate General’s Corps established within Department of the Navy. NJS moves to Newport, RI.
  • 1950

    Act of May 5, 1950 requires the Judge Advocate General to be a lawyer. The first Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is enacted.
  • 1967

    JAG legislation signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on Dec. 8, ensuring Navy lawyers’ status as members of a distinct professional group within the Navy.
  • 1972

    Secretary of the Navy John H. Chafee approves establishment of Legalman rating. Later this year, 275 petty officers are selected for conversion to the new Legalman rating.
  • Today

    JAG directs a worldwide organization of more than 730 judge advocates, 30 limited duty officers (law), 630 enlisted and approximately 275 civilian personnel.