Females may be included in the Selective Service and qualify for a potential draft should one be ordered by the president, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.
The U.S. military’s civilian leader lamented that he didn’t know who ran the Selective Service, but whoever does will “have to exercise some judgment based on what we just did,” Panetta said at a Pentagon press conference Thursday.
On Thursday, Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, lifted the official ban on women serving in combat roles, removing gender barriers from jobs in the military.
Congress established the U.S. Selective Service as an independent federal agency in 1940, one year ahead of the start of World War II. Presidents had drafted men in previous wars, but this was the first time it was established in peace time. In America’s history, the military has never drafted a woman or ordered her to register for the Selective Service.
That could change as the service leaders determine how to institute the new policy of allowing women to serve in combat arms specialties. In doing so, it may force Congress or the president to include women or scrap the Selective Service, analysts said.
“That, frankly, could be true,” Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C., told Military.com.
The Supreme Court cited the exclusion of women from combat in its ruling 30 years ago that the male-only Selective Service System was constitutional.
The inclusion of women in combat roles means a new constitutional challenge to the men-only system could turn out differently, Campbell said. That or the Supreme Court could rule that Selective Service can remain in effect only if women are required to register.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, called the Pentagon’s decision “ill-advised.” In part, she said, because it will affect “unsuspecting civilian women, who will face equal obligations to register for Selective Service when a future federal court rules in favor of litigation brought by the [American Civil Liberties Union] on behalf of men.”
On Wednesday, the ACLU issued a statement in support of the Pentagon’s decision, but said nothing about opening up Selective Service registration to women, or criticizing it for discriminating against men.
As far as Campbell is concerned, women should be signing up right alongside their male counterparts.
“Yes,” she said. “. . . On principle, yes.”
The U.S. Selective Service has begun looking at what it may need in terms of resources should Congress or the president want to make a change.
The system would operate the same way, but the number of people who would have to register each year would about double. The Selective Service has an annual budget of $24 million and 153 full-time employees.
The draft has gone through a number of changes over the past century to include age ranges reaching as high as 45 after the U.S. got into World War II. But through all the changes and wars, women were never included.
Growing opposition to the Vietnam War, coupled with evidence that people with money and connections could avoid it, resulted in Selective Service moving to a lottery system by the end of the 1960s and subsequently ending most deferments.
In 1975, with the U.S. then building an all-volunteer military, Selective Service registration was ended and with it, the draft.
President Jimmy Carter pushed to bring it back, but with a provision that both men and women register. Congress balked at that, however, and resurrected Selective Service as it had been -- for men only.
A lawyer suing to overturn the law argued the female exemption made Selective Service discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled otherwise, deciding that the exemption for women was not a violation of equal protections because women were barred by law from combat.
“The purpose of registration was to prepare for a draft of combat troops,” the court stated. “Since women are excluded from combat, Congress concluded that they would not be needed in the event of a draft, and therefore decided not to register them."
The court said military experts testified before Congress in favor of registering women, but “uniformly opposed” drafting them.
In the event of a draft that required 650,000 people, the military likely would want about 80,000 non-combat jobs filled by women, the witnesses told Congress.
“[But] assuming that a small number of women could be drafted for non-combat roles,” the court said, “Congress simply did not consider it worth the added burdens of including women in draft and registration plans.”