American women cannot be excluded from military draft, judge rules

Image: Women soldiers at Fort Stewart, Georgia
Women soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team don armor at at Fort Stewart, Georgia, in November 2012. Copyright Corey Dickstein AP
By Alex Johnson with NBC News U.S. News
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Because women are no longer excluded from combat duty, the "time has passed" for Selective Service to differentiate between men and women, the judge found.


More than 45 years after the military draft ended, a federal judge has ruled that a law requiring men but not women to register for it is unconstitutional.

In a ruling issued late Friday in Houston, U.S. District Judge Gray Miller denied the government's motion to stay a lawsuit originally brought by the National Coalition for Men, a nonprofit "men's rights" advocacy group, which is seeking an injunction ordering the Selective Service System to require women to register for the draft.

The draft, itself, ended during the final stages of the Vietnam War in 1973, but all American men ages 18 to 26 are still required to register with the Selective Service System so the military could move quickly if it ever needed to reinstate conscription.

Miller, who was appointed to the court by President George W. Bush in 2006, noted that the Supreme Court upheld excluding women from the draft in 1981 because women were excluded from combat duty. Because that prohibition was lifted in 2015, he wrote, excluding them from registering for the draft made no constitutional sense.

"If there ever was a time to discuss 'the place of women in the Armed Services,' that time has passed," he wrote.

The government had asked Miller to delay the case pending a final report from the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, which, among other military staffing issues, is reviewing whether women should be required to register. A final report isn't expected until March 2020; an interim report last month gave no indication which way the commission is leaning.

While Miller sided with the coalition in his ruling late Friday, his judgment didn't order the government to change its draft rules because the immediate issue was the government's request for a stay, not the coalition's larger request for an injunction.

"Women are now allowed in combat, so this decision is long overdue," said Marc Angelucci, an attorney for the coalition, who said women "should face the same repercussions as men for any noncompliance" with registration laws.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights monitor, has likened the National Coalition for Men, which is based in San Diego, to male supremacist groups seeking to roll back protections for women.

In a statement Saturday, the coalition said the male-only draft "is an aspect of socially institutionalized male disposability and helps reinforce the stereotypes that support discrimination against men in other areas such as child custody, divorce, criminal sentencing, paternity fraud, education, public benefits, domestic violence services, due process rights, genital autonomy, and more."

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