Court to Hear Whether Women Should Register for Draft

  • In March 2015, Marine Sgt. Emma A. Bringas and Lance Cpl. Terrence A. Lay fire the MK153 shoulder-launched multipurpose assault weapon during a Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force pilot test at Twentynine Palms. Alicia R. Leaders/Marine Corps
    In March 2015, Marine Sgt. Emma A. Bringas and Lance Cpl. Terrence A. Lay fire the MK153 shoulder-launched multipurpose assault weapon during a Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force pilot test at Twentynine Palms. Alicia R. Leaders/Marine Corps
  • Selective Service System

WASHINGTON -- Whether Thursday's historic decision to allow women in all combat roles may require them to register for the draft faces its first test next week when a federal lawsuit challenging the male-only registration gets its day in court.

The case, National Coalition for Men vs. the Selective Service System, will be considered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in Pasadena, Calif., on Tuesday.

The court date coincidentally occurs just days after Secretary of Defense Ash Carter opened all military combat roles to women, a decision he said may affect whether women are required to register for the draft.

"It may do that," Carter said. "That is a matter of legal dispute right now, and in fact litigation."

But Carter said the outcome of the court case won't affect the Pentagon's decision to move forward.

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"That legal determination won't affect what I announce today -- that is, our timetable for the implementation of the decisions I've announced today," he said. "But it is an issue that's out there."

Under the Military Selective Service Act, males must register 30 days after their 18th birthday with the Selective Service System, which could call upon them for compulsory military service in a time of war. They must stay registered until their 26th birthday.

Coalition attorney Marc Angelucci, who will be arguing the case before the 9th Circuit on behalf of the organization, said Thursday's decision could have a big impact on the outcome of his case.

"The fact that the military has now opened all combat roles for women can certainly affect this lawsuit," he said.

The case was initially dismissed in 2013 as premature by a lower federal district court, Angelucci said, because the Pentagon had not yet made a final decision on opening combat roles to women. The coalition appealed to the 9th Circuit, leading to Tuesday's hearing.

"If the court of appeals does not reverse the dismissal, we will immediately refile this challenge," Angelucci said. "As long as there are any women in combat, there's no excuse for only forcing males to register for the draft."

A senior defense official who worked closely with Carter on Thursday's decision to allow women in all combat roles called the lawsuit against the Selective Service Agency "a complicated matter."

"Today obviously changes the facts," said the official, who spoke to reporters on background late Thursday following Carter's announcement.

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Women in the Military