Tuesday, 17 May 2016
House removes authorization to order women to register for the draft from its version of pending "Defense" bill
[Front ranks of the West Coast mobilization against any draft or draft registration for women or men on Market Street in San Francisco, 22 March 1980, Photo by Chris Booth for Resistance News. Click image for larger version.]
The U.S. House of Representatives voted today to remove (see page 3) a provision that would extend Presidential authority to order women as well as men to register for the draft from the House version of the pending National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017.
This doesn't mean that the threat to extend draft registration to women is over, but it does mean that Congress has probably succeeded in punting its decision of whether to extend draft registration to women or end draft registration entirely past the November election and into the next Presidential administration.
More resistance is needed now, and will be needed in the next year or more, to put an end to draft registration.
Here's what happened today, and what it means:
The substantive decision to remove the provision on women and draft registration from the version of the bill to be voted on by the full House later this week was included in a procedural resolution establishing rules for debate on the bill. Military Times described this as "an unusual but not unprecedented parliamentary move."
Although there was a recorded vote to approve the resolution, it was a vote on the resolution as a whole, which disposed of many other unrelated issues. So Representatives didn't have to reveal how they would have voted on this issue alone, and have dodged the bullet of having to take a public position on draft registration which they might have to defend to voters in the November elections.
For what it's worth, the vote was almost purely partisan, with Republicans voting 234-1 in favor of the resolution (and against requiring women to register for the draft), and Democrats voting 180-0 against it (and in favor of requiring women to register for the draft as long as men are required to register). Even the Republican (Coffman) and Democratic (Polis) original co-sponsors of the bill to end registration entirely on partisan lines in today's vote on women and draft registration.
An identical provision authorizing draft registration of women remains in the Senate version of the "Defense" bill, and seems likely to be approved. Assuming that both houses of Congress approve their respective non-identical versions of the bill, a joint "conference committee" will be appointed to negotiate a compromise.
There are many other differences between the House and Senate bills, conference committee negotiations are conducted in secret, and the compromise negotiated by the conference committee is voted up or down by each chamber as a whole, without amendment. Most Congressional observers seem to expect that the Senate provision on women and draft registration will be quietly dropped from the compromise version behind the closed doors of the conference committee, and that decision approved as part of the overall compromise without a separate vote.
But opponents of the draft and draft registration aren't out of the woods yet.
The reason this issue reached the House floor today, for the first time since 1994, is that the decision of the Pentagon and the President to allow women in all combat "occupational specialties" within the military undercuts the basis for the Supreme Court's decision in 1981 that it was Constitutional to require young men but not young women to register for the draft. New lawsuits challenging male-only draft registration as unconstitutionally discriminatory are already working their way through the courts, and are likely to lead to a ruling invalidating the current male-only registration requirement.
If Congress does nothing, registration is likely to be ended by court order, leaving an awkward and prolonged mess of follow-up litigation about the continued applicability of administrative sanctions against those who previously hadn't registered. To avoid that embarrassment and its complications, Congress will have to act, before a final court decision, either to extend draft registration to women or to end it for men. "All of us or none of us!" Today's vote in the House of Representatives does nothing to resolve that dilemma.
The most advanced of these lawsuits has recently been remanded to the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, where a court order setting the schedule for further written briefing or the next status hearing is expected shortly. Assuming that the government appeals any decision that the current registration scheme is unconstitutional, a final decision could take a year or two, perhaps three if the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, which it might. But the government is likely to have to deal with this issue sometime in the next Presidential administration.
Thn issue then will no longer be whether to register men only or register both men and women. Sooner or later, sometime in the next few years, Congress will have to decide whether to require both men and women to register, or neither women nor men.
What can we do in the meantime to influence that decision?
H.R. 4523, a bipartisan bill to do the right thing -- end draft registration, abolish the Selective Service System, and repeal all Federal administrative penalties for failure to register for the draft -- remains pending in the House. It may not get out of committee this year, but it needs as a strong a showing of support as possible to help the chances for a similar bill in the next Congress.
If you sign either or both of the petitions in support of H.R. 4523 initiated independently by Julie Mastrine and David Swanson, you can get on their respective mailing lists for updates, especially if this bill moves forward or when a similar bill is introduced in the next Congress. (If you know people who you think should be on my mailing list for updates specifically about draft registration and the draft, let me know or have them contact me directly.)
Any realistic debate about whether to continue draft registration or extend it to women needs to include consideration of whether it can be enforced, and what it would take and how much it would cost to try to enforce it.
Any budget for expanding draft registration to women should include an estimate of the cost of trying to round up those young women who don't register voluntarily, and the cost of investigating, prosecuting, and imprisoning those who publicly defy the law and can;t be ignored without complete loss of credibility for the government's threats (as happened with men). The hearings held in 1980 and 1982 by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Civil Liberties, and the Administration of Justice on Selective Service Prosecutions and Judiciary Implications of Draft Registration (see pp. 130-131 for the founding Call for Resistance by the National Resistance Committee, inserted in the hearing record by one of the witnesses) provide an excellent model for consideration of foreseeable enforcement problems that weren't heeded then but should be taken more seriously in light of 30+ more years of experience with the government's inability to enforce the draft registration law.
As I've said before, though, lobbying alone will not persuade Congress to end draft registration rather than extending it to women. The decisive factor will be whether we can make the proven failure of draft registration of men, and the inevitability that registration of women will also fail, part of the terms of public and Congressional debate.
Resistance to draft registration by young women -- massive, if mostly quiet, resistance -- is inevitable. It will make draft registration of women unenforceable and useless for a fair or inclusive draft, just as it has done for men, but in its own feminist ways.
But neither Congress nor the public will believe in the inevitability of widespread resistance by young women, however, if they don't see or hear from at least some young women saying themselves -- even anonymously -- that, "I won't go" or "We won't go". The combination of ageism and sexism makes it especially likely that young women will be wrongly presumed to be more submissive and more easily intimidated than young men have been, rather than more opposed to (sexist) militarism and to the government's attempt to control their bodies.
Men and older people need to listen to, and help amplify, the voices of young women who speak up against draft registration. We are not and we will not be the leaders of their resistance, which will take new forms that we can neither anticipate nor control. We can only try, to the best of our ability, to support them in their choices and to amplify their voices -- as so many women, young and old, have done to support me and other male draft resisters for so many years. Nothing I can do now can repay the debt I owe to the women of the Resistance. But I will try.
All of us who oppose registration and the draft, and who support peace and freedom, need to organize, prepare to resist and to support those young women who will resist, and speak out about the failure of draft registration and the inevitability of continued and expanded resistance.Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 17 May 2016, 13:16 ( 1:16 PM) | TrackBack (0)