On Feb. 24, U.S. District Judge Gray Miller ruled that it is unconstitutional to require only men to register for the draft, declaring that exempting women from the requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.
Though the decision could potentially be a landmark one which could spark change within the Selective Service System (SSS), it has not yet put into effect any major changes. As of May 2019, the draft only registers male citizens, as stated by the SSS website.
Miller did not demand that the SSS include women in the draft or that it eliminate its clause that all men between the ages of 18 and 25 must register.
According to Dr. Joe Heck, Army general, former congressman and chair of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, the court ruling changes nothing; the Commission will continue to apply the draft only to men unless Congress states otherwise.
Despite this fact, however, it is extremely likely that the government will likely be forced to appeal the ruling in order to defend an act of Congress. It should be noted that such a case has already been considered before the Supreme Court; in 1981, the Rostker v. Goldberg ruling declared that Congress could reasonably exclude women from the draft. However, at the time, women were not permitted to serve in combat positions in the military.
However, women’s roles in the military have drastically changed since the Rostker ruling, according to USA Today. In 2013, the government removed the ban on women in combat, and in 2015, all military positions, including combat roles, became open to women.
Though Miller’s decision may not affect the conscription system in the short term, as no injunction was issued requiring a change in the SSS, the ruling has brought the attention of the Justice Department to the constitutionality – or lack thereof – of requiring members of one sex to register for military conscription. As such, until Congress or a court enacts a change in procedure, the SSS will continue its operations as usual, and the policy that women are not included in the draft will remain unchanged.
If the district court’s ruling is held, however, Selective Service requirements could change drastically. Both men and women could be required to register for Selective Service on their 18th birthday or the SSS could be eliminated, requiring neither men nor women to register. Selective Service could even become voluntary, and men and women could continue to register but risk no benefits by declining to do so.
The Commission held a public hearing regarding the Selective Service requirement at Gallaudet University in late April, but has not yet made a decision in regards to the future of the draft.