This person shouldn’t be a Navy officer

A federal judge denied Midshipman Chase Standage’s request for an injunction that would prevent the U.S. Naval Academy from expelling him while his lawsuit against the Academy is pending, but stayed his expulsion while he appeals her ruling.

Standage was kicked out of the Academy for tweeting, among other things, that Breonna Taylor “received justice when she was killed by police” and advocating “for a drone strike against antifa,” reported (read story here).

His lawyers argue this speech is protected by the First and Fifth Amendments, and they’re right, it is. He can’t be criminally prosecuted for it. But there’s no First Amendment right to be a naval officer.

Navy commissions are based on needs of the service, and the Navy has the right to commission only those officer candidates it deems suitable for the role.

Breonna Taylor was an innocent bystander killed by police in a raid targeting someone else. To call her death “justice” is free speech protected by the First Amendment, but it’s callous and poor judgment to say that, and arguably also carries a twinge of racism. And someone who advocates a “drone strike” against “antifa” is not someone you want making critical decisions involving use of force.

The Navy is understandably sensitive about its commanders exercising sound judgment. In 1988, a U.S. Navy cruiser in the Persian Gulf mistakenly shot down a civilian airliner. The Navy came under severe criticism, and the U.S. government paid over $130 million in compensation claims. It’s unlikely that example of bad judgment has been forgotten by the Navy.

The Navy is entitled to conclude that Standage’s remarks demonstrate he lacks the judgment required of a naval officer. He’s not being punished for his speech, nor is his freedom of speech being curtailed. Rather, the Navy is making an employment decision: That’s he’s not a suitable candidate for a Navy officer career. Like any employer, the Navy has a right to decide who to make selection decisons, and that’s all that’s happening here. The First Amendment has nothing to do with it.

Update (2/26/21): Media sources report the lawsuit was settled, but terms weren’t made public, and Standage’s status at the Naval Academy is unknown. See, e.g., report here, which says, “He has completed all of his educational work and is currently attending graduate school at the University of Maryland through the Voluntary Graduate Education Program. He did not receive a service assignment despite being on the list for Navy pilot.” (For details of the VGEP, click here.)

Beyond that is speculative, but if you think about it, what compromise would satisfy both sides? He wants to graduate, and the Navy doesn’t want him as an officer, so the obvious compromise is allowing him to graduate and releasing him from his service obligation.

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  1. Mark Adams #

    The man is a midshipman. They are not expected to have the wisdom or political sense a navy officer or officer of any service would have. Yes the Army or Air Force could take this young man as an officer. I am sure we have Navy officers advocating for some action against China or at least preparing or updating plans for such. Looking at both through the prism of the Naval Academy neither statement is shocking. Applying the Universities rules Breanna Taylor is guilty. A drone strike against terrorists certainly is something to advocate for, which is different from a naval officer simply issuing the order. What has happened here is the Navy is worried about its appearance and all too often those wanting a parade ground military of perfect tin soldiers do these actions. Well there is no such thing. KP or its equivalent would be more appropriate than expulsion.

  2. Roger Rabbit #

    The view “through the prism of the Naval Academy” is that he’s an unsuitable officer candidate. Your view may be different, but their view controls. What is “the Universities rule”? What are you talking about? Beonna Taylor is guilty of nothing. A drone strike against terrorists is different from a drone strike against violent protesters, but if you want the military to bomb violent protesters, then why shouldn’t they start with the violent protesters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021? To each his own, but I don’t like that idea. As for your last sentence, an argument could be made that the Navy should impose corrective discipline instead of explusion, and his lawyers will make that argument, but the Navy can argue that straightening out cadets’ bad judgment isn’t part of the Naval Academy’s curriculum, because cadets are expected to have good judgment when they arrive there. KP? Really? You’re confusing the Naval Academy with Army boot camp. They’re there to be trained to become warship captains and admirals.

  3. Mark Adams #

    He is actually planning on being a naval aviator. He is currently in graduate school. He had already completed three years at the Academy when this broke out. He has completed his undergraduate studies at taxpayer expense.

    Apparently there are some interesting tweets the daughter of the Commandant of the Academy made. So how about the vile tweets that were in response to the Midshipman some of them from current Naval officers (

    Superintendent Vice Admiral Sean Buck does not get the last say. Or at least should not have. The Assistant Navy Secretary for Manpower and reserve affairs overruled the Academy and ruled the midshipman was qualified for naval service. only to be overruled by the Secretary of the Navy.

    Sean Buck graduated from the Academy in 1983 and Kenneth Braithwaite graduated in 1984. Both men became naval aviators. Seems likely they know each other and the good boys got together or one asked the other for a favor.

  4. Roger Rabbit #

    This is about Standage’s tweets. What other people said or did has no bearing on whether he should stay in the Academy. The loss of taxpayer investment in his military education would be a shame, but an officer acting out the sentiments he expressed in his tweets would be far worse for the country. All large employers make hiring mistakes and have to let employees they’ve invested in go; it’s a normal cost of doing business.

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