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End Draft 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.]

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 appointed by Congress and the President recommended that draft registration be extended to women as well as men. Bills are pending in Congress and likely to be acted on in 2020 or 2021 either to implement these recommendations, or to end draft registration and abolish the Selective Service System.

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.

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.

Few young men comply fully with the draft registration law. 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. Enforcing a national service requirement would be equally impossible.

Most men who register for the draft do so only if it is required for some other government program. Men who haven't registered for the draft are ineligible for Federal student aid, naturalization as U.S. citizens, and some other Federal programs. In some states (although not in California), men of draft age are required to register in order to obtain a driver's license, or are automatically registered when they get a driver's license.

Will women be required to register for the draft?

Will the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service recommend a compulsory national service requirement?

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 have been introduced in Congress to end draft registration (H.R. 5492) or to expand draft registration to women (H.R. 6415). Congress is likely to make a choice between these proposals in 2020 or 2021.

Why are Congress and a National Commission 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. Lawsuits against male-only draft registration are already working their way through the courts.

Most members of Congress would prefer to avoid the issue of the draft. President Trump has not yet announced any position on draft registration. 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.

Forced to choose, Congress may well 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 Service in April 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.

  • Don't register for the draft. Oppose both the draft and draft registration, for women or for men. Spread the word that the Selective Service System has admitted that enforcement of the draft registration law ended in 1988. Nobody has been prosecuted for nonregistration in 30+ years.

  • Support continued resistance to draft registration as long as it remains the law. Support resistance by young women to the expansion of draft registration to women. Tell Congress that resistance will make draft registration of women unenforceable, as it has for men.

  • Support Federal legislation to end draft registration, abolish the Selective Service System, restore eligibility for Federal student aid, naturalization as U.S. citizens, and other Federal programs for men who didn't register for the draft, and preempt all state sanctions for failure to register with the Selective Service System. Urge U.S. Representatives to co-sponsor H.R. 5492, and ask U.S. Senators to introduce a similar bill. Support amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to accomplish the same purpose.

  • Oppose H.R. 6415, which would expand Selective Service registration to young women as well as young men.

  • Speak out! Educate, agitate, and organize against the draft and draft registration, for men or women.

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


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