An end to the military draft... or an expansion?

(Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune, via AP)

Back in the late sixties, I remember my family nervously waiting to find out if my older brother’s number would come up in the draft and if he would be sent to Vietnam. My sister, three years older than my brother, had never faced such a question since women were not required to register for the draft. That disparity (if you think of it as such) is still with us two decades into the 21st century. But now, the ACLU and other activist groups are pushing the Supreme Court to take up the question once again. Is a male-only draft constitutional? The court is expected to decide whether or not to hear the case as soon as Monday. But will anyone really notice or even care? There hasn’t been a draft held since the closing days of the war in Vietnam. But the ACLU is arguing that the current registration laws “send a harmful message.” (Associated Press)

The Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether it’s sex discrimination for the government to require only men to register for the draft when they turn 18.

The question of whether it’s unconstitutional to require men but not women to register could be viewed as one with little practical impact. The last time there was a draft was during the Vietnam War, and the military has been all-volunteer since. But the registration requirement is one of the few remaining places where federal law treats men and women differently, and women’s groups are among those arguing that allowing it to stand is harmful.

The justices could say as soon as Monday whether they will hear a case involving the Military Selective Service Act, which requires men to register for the draft.

I honestly don’t remember ever registering for the draft, most likely because I turned 18 in boot camp. I suppose it’s possible somebody handed me a registration form and had me fill it out. They give you all sorts of paperwork to fill out during boot camp, but that was a long time ago. The real question on the table now, however, is whether the court will declare the law unconstitutional.

What’s clear is that the Supreme Court will neither end the draft nor declare that women must also register. All the justices are being asked to do is declare the Military Selective Service Act unconstitutional. If they do so, it will be up to Congress to decide how to amend the law to bring it in line with their ruling. Both the ACLU and the National Organization for Women seem to be suggesting that they would prefer women be forced to register, though that’s not entirely clear.

The groups are arguing that the current law places an undue burden on men that is not shared by women. It’s technically true that men who fail to register can face civil and criminal penalties. Only 20 people have been criminally charged for failing to register since 1980, with the last one coming in 1986. (The charges were dismissed before he went to trial.) But millions of men have found themselves permanently denied certain federal benefits because they were not registered.

The “harmful messaging” referenced by the ACLU is described as an assumption that women are unfit to serve their country in uniform and that men are unfit to stay home and raise a family while the mother goes off to war.

We’ve covered this in the past here and I’ve yet to hear any arguments that have changed my mind. Drafting women and forcing them to go to war is immoral and the idea should be shunned. And yes, I realize that’s a double standard. I don’t care. I’m one of those old men who yell at clouds or at teenagers who come onto their lawn. Too bad. I’m fine with being labeled. While there are many great opportunities for women in the United States military, I also don’t think they should be sent into combat, but that ship has long since sailed.

Frankly, the easiest and, in my opinion at least, the best path forward would be for the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional and have Congress simply repeal the Military Selective Service Act. It’s no longer needed and it flies in the face of the military’s current philosophy of operation. If you are one of the young men and women who choose to volunteer and put on the uniform, would you really want to be sent into battle and trust your life to someone who didn’t want to be there and was only at your back to avoid prosecution? I know I wouldn’t. All of our military branches are meeting their quotas for recruits, though some years are better than others. And we’re still getting the job done, with brave young people who hear the call to service and answer it with honor.

Let’s just end the draft and be done with it. In some worst-case scenario where a catastrophic war required more troops, Congress could always bring it back again with a single vote if it’s truly needed. But for now, it’s clearly an unneeded relic of an era that is far in the past.