The effect of Congress’s private bill was to overturn the court-martial’s decision. As a general principle, the President has the authority to pardon offenses against the United States. Congress can quasi-pardon by simply amending the law, but that would apply to everyone that broke it. In a private relief bill, Congress can declare that a particular law’s effects do not apply to a particular person.
The military courts are part of the judicial branch. Appeals from the verdict of a court martial are heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and from there to the Supreme Court.
If they hold officer rank in the Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps) they are real officers, period. If they hold a commission in the three “uniformed” services (Public Health Service, Coast Guard, NOAA Commissioned Corps) you could argue that their rank is “courtesy”.
However, I am an Air Force Captain (O-3) working in an office with a NOAA Captain (O-6) and you better believe I call him “sir”. He is my boss’s boss, and that’s that.
Monty is of course correct that the military are a co-equal subset of the seven uniformed services – when I say three I mean three (non-military) uniformed services. Anyhow: we salute the rank and not the man.
Supply Officers do go to sea, and if they are assigned to a submarine, they attend the Submarine Officer Basic Course (SOBC) along with the line officers.
They do stand watches, but the most senior watch they ever stand is Diving Officer of the Watch (normally a watch stood by the most senior enlisted men). In battle stations, we had a supply officer handle the Geo Plot, which is normally a battle station watch stood by a junior line officer.
Nevertheless, they are still not eligible for command at sea as they are not line officers. Supply Officers are not even eligible to qualify as Officer of the Deck for submarines.
I have to disagree with this. The U.S. military court system is an Article I (Congressionally established) court system (see, e.g. 10 USC 941), and thus part of the executive branch. The statute that permitted the US Supreme Court review decisions of the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, 28 USC 1259, was only adopted in 1983.
Just read an interesting article in the August 2007 issue of Naval History magazine, Robert E. Cray Jr.'s “Explaining Defeat: The Loss of the USS Chesapeake,” which mentions the Cox controversy in passing. Heinlein alluded to the case in Starship Troopers.
I agree with Billdo that military courts are Article I courts. Either the President as CINC, or Congress by legislation, may directly intervene in the workings of such courts, although it rarely happens.