Last week we learned that outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was lifting the U.S. military’s ban on women in combat. That news brought support from a host of newspapers. The possibility of women joining the combat ranks on the front lines also raised questions from some members of military, and media icons like George Will.
The issue of women in combat also brings another question into the conversation about women in the military. What about registering females for the draft? The current law of the land requires only males to register with the Selective Service System (SSS). This is supposed to happen within 30 days of young man turning 18.
The official language from the agency’s web page lays it out in some rather specific terms:
If you are a man ages 18 through 25 and living in the U.S., then you must register with Selective Service. It’s the law. According to law, a man must register with Selective Service within 30 days of his 18th birthday. Selective Service will accept late registrations but not after a man has reached age 26.
The agency has also been trying to get the message out to 18 year old men for years. Witness this peppy PSA from 1985. It features a singing and break-dancing group encouraging a pal to get down to the post office and sign up.
22 years later, SSS enlisted a popular actor – R. Lee Ermey to recreate his “Sgt. Gunney” character for this public service announcement.
Ads like these and others combined with a non-stop campaign in high schools and post offices has generated a pool of more than 15 million men who have enlisted for Selective Service. Of course, there are some exceptions to the mandatory registration requirement. Men who are disabled, in hospitals, prisons, and a few other situations are exempt.
Yet, the question remains: Why are women given a blanket exclusion from Selective Service registration? The answer is addressed by the agency:
Selective Service law as it’s written now refers specifically to “male persons” in stating who must register and who would be drafted. For women to be required to register with Selective Service, Congress would have to amend the law.
While Congress has not seen fit to change the law, it has come under scrutiny by the courts. In 1981, the constitutionality of the gender bias was upheld by the Supreme Court in Rostker v. Goldberg. The decision had its roots in the history of the draft’s purpose. The initial reason for drafting American males back in1 948 (when the draft was initiated) was to provide an ample supply of soldiers for combat situations. Since women were not allowed in combat roles, this precluded them from the draft.
The Supreme Court cited the combat exclusion rule in their 1981 decision:
And since women are excluded from combat service by statute or military policy, men and women are simply not similarly situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft, and Congress’ decision to authorize the registration of only men therefore does not violate the Due Process Clause.
The male-only requirement came up again in 1994, during the Clinton administration. Congress repealed the combat exclusion for women, and the President asked the Defense Department to consider changing the Selective Service registration requirements. And yet, nothing has changed in terms of the men-only requirement for Selective Service registration.
Not registering can have serious consequences. Again, we reference the information from the SSS website:
Registration is the law. A man who fails to register may, if prosecuted and convicted, face a fine of up to $250,000 and/or a prison term of up to five years.
In addition to the possible criminal charges and penalties, not registering can render you ineligible for:
- federal student loans and grant programs
- federal job training under the Workforce Investment Act
- federal jobs or security clearance as a contractor
- U.S. citizenship
If you are not certain that you registered, there is a place on the SSS’s website where you can check by entering your last name, social security number, and date of birth.
How do you feel about allowing women to fight on the front lines? Take our Blaze Poll on the subject of women in combat and the draft. You can also submit a question of your own on these topics.