Justice Department Reinforces Federal Protections for Servicemembers and their Spouses in Letter to State Officials

Published 6:38 am Friday, July 14, 2023

The Justice Department announced that it has issued a letter to all state licensing authorities about new employment-related federal protections for military families. The letter informs state licensing authorities about Congress’s recent amendment to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) that allows servicemembers and their spouses to use their professional licenses or certificates in new jurisdictions if they are relocating because of military orders and meet certain other requirements.

“Servicemembers and their families should not face unnecessary barriers to employment because of the sacrifices they make in service to our country,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The guidance we are issuing today reflects the Justice Department’s commitment to honoring our nation’s servicemembers and their families not just with words, but also with action.”

“Servicemembers bear great burdens to protect and advance our democracy, and families of these dedicated military professionals often make sacrifices on our behalf, including frequent moves, child-care challenges, and interruptions or barriers to employment,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The resources that we are making available should empower many servicemembers and military spouses with professional licenses to better navigate the burdens that can result from frequently moving around the country.”

In January 2023, Congress added a new provision to the SCRA — a law that provides servicemembers and their families with a wide variety of financial and housing protections — to make it easier for servicemembers and military spouses to have their professional licenses recognized when they relocate to another state due to military orders. The new SCRA license portability provision provides that servicemembers and military spouses can have their out-of-state licenses recognized as valid in the new state while they are stationed there as long as they meet certain requirements.

The letter to state licensing authorities explains how the SCRA’s license portability provision reduces the administrative hurdles that servicemembers and their spouses face when they move across state lines. The documents explain the requirements servicemembers or their spouses must meet to have their license or certificate recognized as valid under this new law. The Department is also releasing a fact sheet about the SCRA’s license portability provision.

Statement of Interest

The Justice Department also filed a statement of interest in Portée v. Morath, a lawsuit filed by a military spouse in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas alleging the state of Texas denied her request to have her out-of-state school counseling licenses recognized as valid as required under the new SCRA’s license portability provision. According to the complaint, the military spouse has school counseling licenses issued by Ohio and Missouri and recently moved to Del Rio, Texas, due to her husband’s military orders. She alleges that the Texas state licensing authorities told her that the new SCRA law “would not apply to Texas.”

The Department’s statement of interest argues that the requirement that the license have been “actively used during the two years immediately preceding the relocation” to the new jurisdiction should be interpreted to require only that the license have been used at some point during the prior two years. It also discusses the significant public interest that is served by reducing barriers to licensure and increasing career opportunities for servicemembers and their spouses.

“This federal law is in place to help military spouses maintain their careers and financial security while enduring already stressful life changes,” said U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza for the Western District of Texas. “Ultimately, the SCRA strengthens America’s military families and our overall national security, and that is not something any agency should interfere with.”

Servicemembers and their spouses who are covered by this new law are likely eligible for military legal assistance and can contact their local legal assistance office for help. Office locations can be found at legalassistance.law.af.mil. If servicemembers or their spouses are not eligible for military legal assistance services, they may request that the Justice Department review their claim by submitting a complaint through civilrights.justice.gov/link/4025A.

The Servicemember and Veterans Initiative, housed in the Department’s Civil Rights Division, works to ensure that the rights of the brave men and women of our nation’s armed forces, and the veterans who have served in the past, are safeguarded from discrimination and unfair treatment.

Since 2011, the Department has obtained over $481 million in monetary relief for over 146,000 servicemembers through its enforcement of the SCRA. You can learn more about the Servicemember and Veterans Initiative at servicemembers.gov.

The letter to state licensing authorities can be found here.

A fact sheet explaining the new SCRA provision can be found here.

The statement of interest can be found here.