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End Selective Service Registration!

Download this leaflet as a 2-sided 1-sheet PDF.

Women Lead the Mobilization Against the Draft
[San Francisco, 22 March 1980. Photo by Chris Booth.]

No young person, regardless of gender, should be subject to a military draft or be forced to register for a draft in the United States. The military draft registration system is an unnecessary, wasteful bureaucracy which unconstitutionally violates Americans’ civil liberties and unfairly subjects individuals who fail to register for the draft to unnecessarily severe, lifelong penalties — penalties which disproportionately affect low-income Americans. We should be abolishing military draft registration altogether, not expanding it, which is why I’m proud to reintroduce the Selective Service Repeal Act in the House

[Rep. Peter DeFazio, 14 April 2021; interview with Rep. DeFazio on Oregon Public Radio, 25 April 2021]

Tell Congress to end draft registration, not expand it to women:

  1. Repeal Presidential authority to order registration

  2. Repeal all Federal sanctions for nonregistration.

  3. Preempt all state sanctions for nonregistration.

  4. Abolish the Selective Service System.

The U.S. is having its most serious debate about draft registration in decades — but so far, the debate has ignored the peace movement and the history of the draft, draft registration, and draft resistance.

A National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service has recommended that draft registration be extended to women as well as men. In 2021, Congress will decide.

The choice is not between male-only draft registration (which is likely to be found unconstitutional) and expanding registration to women. The real choice is whether to expand registration to women or to end it entirely.

This is a choice about militarism, not a choice about gender equality. Expanding draft registration to women would bring about a semblance of equality in war (although women in the military would likely still be subject to disproportionate sexual harassment and abuse). Ending draft registration would bring about real equality in peace and freedom.

If we don’t speak up, we will miss our best chance in decades to put an end to preparations to reinstate the draft, and to put an end to the fantasy of military planners that the draft is always available as a fallback if the military runs short of troops. Even if the “poverty draft” and the outsourcing of war to civilian contractors obviates the need for a draft, draft registration indoctrinates young people that they have a “duty” to fight.

All male U.S. residents, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, are required to register with the Selective Service System when they turn 18, and notify Selective Service every time they change their address until their 26th birthday. Draft registration is one of the ways that all young men (and possibly soon young women as well) have to interact with the military and think about their relationship to military “service”.

The Selective Service System maintains contingency plans for a general “cannon fodder” draft of young men (based on the current list of registrants) and a separate Health Care Personnel Delivery System for men and women in 57 health care professions. These plans could be activated at any time that Congress decides to reinstate either or both forms of a draft.

Few young men comply fully with the draft registration law, and most men who register for the draft do so only if and when it is required for some other government program. Men are supposed to notify the Selective Service System every time they change addresses until they turn 26, but almost nobody does. Most draft notices sent to the addresses in Selective Service records would wind up in the dead letter office. Passive resistance has made registration unenforceable, and has made the registration list all but useless for a fair or inclusive draft.

Will women be required to register for the draft?

In 2016, Congress considered “defense” bills that would have required young women to register for the draft on the same terms as young men. This provision was approved by the Senate but not the House of Representatives. In a compromise after the 2016 election, Congress voted to appoint a National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service to study the issue. In March 2020, the National Commission issued its final report, recommending that draft registration be extended to women and that contingency planning for a draft of health care workers be continued.

Bills were introduced in Congress in 2019 and 2020 to end draft registration or to expand draft registration to women. The bipartisan Selective Service Repeal Act of 2021 (H.R. 2509 in the House, S. 1139 in the Senate) has been reintroduced, and Congress is likely to make a decision in 2021 either to end, or to expand, draft registration

Why is Congress talking about this now? In 1981, the Supreme Court upheld requiring men but not women to register for the draft. The court based its decision on “deference” to the military policy which, at that time, excluded women from combat assignments. Now that this policy has changed, it’s likely that continued registration of men but not women will be found unconstitutional. The Supreme Court is now considering whether to rule on this issue.

Most members of Congress would prefer to avoid the issue of the draft. But if Congress does nothing, court rulings are likely to invalidate the current male-only draft registration law. Congress will soon have to decide whether to expand draft registration to women as well as men, or to end draft registration entirely. Congress can no longer avoid this issue. President Biden supports expanding draft registration to women and has included former members of the National Commission who made this recommendation in his transition team and Cabinet.

Forced to choose, Congress could decide to end draft registration entirely, rather than try to extend it to women. Support for an end to draft registration is no longer limited to opponents of war and the draft. At a hearing before the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service in 2019, the former director of the Selective Service System testified that noncompliance has made the registration database “less than useless” and recommended that draft registration be repealed.

This is our best chance in decades to put an end to plans and preparations for one or another type of draft, and to restore the eligibility of men who didn’t register for the draft for student aid, government jobs and training, naturalized citizenship, and other government programs from which they are currently excluded. But if we don’t speak up now, draft registration will be continued and expanded to young women as well as young men.

Download this leaflet as a 2-sided 1-sheet PDF.

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This page most recently modified 27 April 2021. This site is maintained by Edward Hasbrouck. Corrections, contributions (articles, graphics, photos, videos, links, etc.), and feedback are welcomed.