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The End of the Draft?

March 12, 2019

Last month, a federal judge in Texas ruled that an all-male draft is unconstitutional.1Current laws demand that all males must register for Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday, or face prosecution, fines and prison time. If an American male over 18 is not registered, he is not eligible for federal student aid, cannot apply for federal jobs and cannot register for federal and state jobs training programs.2

A military draft has been a constant presence in American life throughout the 20th century. During World War I, because of an increased demand for members of the armed forces, Congress passed the Selective Service Act of 1917. The draft was cancelled after Armistice in 1918. In 1940, the first peacetime draft was enacted because of increasing tension in Europe and the threat of another world war. Even after the war was over, the draft remained as the nation stayed in a constant high-alert throughout the Cold War. During the Vietnam War, the draft faced public condemnation and new scrutiny. Draft exemptions favored upper-middle class and wealthy individuals3, and African Americans were drafted at higher rates while holding fewer positions as officers.4 As the military involvement in Southeast Asia wore on, the draft became even less popular.

The draft was suspended in 1973 and the military has been all-volunteer since then. However, in 1980, registration was reinstituted to require that all 18-year-old males register for Selective Service if the federal government decides to reinstate the draft.

Since the 1960’s, the all-male draft has been a point of contention for both feminist and male rights activists. A lot of resistance to gender equality laws, including the Equal Rights Amendment, has been based on an aversion to women’s involvement in the draft. Women’s rights groups opposed the draft on the grounds that the military did not give equal opportunity to women and women were barred from many occupations in the military. Men’s rights groups countered that a federal requirement for only one sex was discriminatory to men and unconstitutional. This past year, the National Coalition for Men brought a lawsuit to the Southern District of Texas and the judge agreed with this assessment.

The federal court judge issued the ruling as a declaration, not an injunction, so the court did not make any demands or give instructions to Congress for changing the Selective Service laws. But, this court case does open up more legal avenues for the draft laws to change.

Many countries have compulsory military service, including Brazil, South Korea and Switzerland. Israel requires all citizens, male and female to service in the armed forces. Other nations have expanded their idea of service; France is considering three-month required service for 16-year-olds that could include postings in many areas of civic and governmental duty. Even South Korea, in a constant state of military readiness because of their decades long tension with North Korea, allows athletes and Olympians to be exempt from their military draft. There are federal service possibilities within the United States that already exist that could substitute for a military draft.

Discussion Questions
  1. Should the United States continue to enforce a military draft? If so, should all citizens be compelled to register?
  2. Given that the draft has not been used since the Vietnam conflict, do you think it is still needed? Why or why not?
  3. What other forms of national public service are available for citizens? (Examples: AmeriCorps volunteers, Peace Corps, volunteer fire fighters, etc.)
  4. Should some amount of national service be mandatory? If so, how long, and what kinds of service would be included?

Interested in extending the discussion? Our CivX Now coalition partners at the National Constitution Center created this resource to help students deliberate about the idea of mandatory national service.


Featured Image: Library of Congress
[1] Quackenbush, C. (2019, February 25). Federal Judge Rules All-Male Military Draft Unconstitutional. Retrieved from http://time.com/5536407/all-male-draft-unconstitutional/
[2] Registration. (n.d.). Retrieved fromhttps://www.sss.gov/Registration/Why-Register
[3] Rutenburg, A. (2019, January 2). What Trump’s Draft Deferments Reveal. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/01/trumps-military-draft-deferment-isnt-unusual/579265/
[4] Rothman, L. (2017, May 22). 50 Years Ago This Week: Vietnam and the Black Soldier. Retrieved from http://time.com/4780493/1967-vietnam-race/


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