BE IT RESOLVED, that NOW opposes the reinstatement of registration and draft for both men and women. NOW’s primary focus on this issue is on opposition to registration and draft. However, if we cannot stop the return to registration and draft, we also cannot choose between our sisters and brothers. We oppose any registration or draft that excludes women as an unconstitutional denial of rights to both young men and women. And we continue to oppose all sex discrimination by the volunteer armed services.
-The National Organization for Women’s official position on women and the draft, adopted in 1980 and never changed.
I agree with NOW. Abolishing selective service registration (SSR) > both sexes being made to register for the draft > status quo.
But when it comes to what ordinary citizens can do, I think it’s especially important for us to push and argue for abolishing SSR. Because when SSR is made gender-neutral, it’s probably not going to be because of ordinary-level activism; it’ll be because someone wins a case at the Supreme Court.1
In Rostker v Goldberg, in 1981, the Supreme Court, ruled (quoting Wikipedia’s summary):
In the majority opinion, Justice William Rehnquist wrote “[t]he existence of the combat restrictions clearly indicates the basis for Congress’ decision to exempt women from registration.“ … Men and women, because of the combat restrictions on women, are simply not similarly situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft therefore, there is no violation of the Due Process Clause.
And that’s how it’s been ever since. But the Obama administration announced the end of restrictions on women in combat this past December. The logic of Rostker v Goldberg no longer applies, and there’s no reason a equal protection lawsuit against selective service registration couldn’t succeed. In fact, an 18-year-old girl in New Jersey has already initiated such a lawsuit.
It seems likely that sex-neutral selective service will happen without needing much help at the grass roots. Abolishment of SSR, in contrast, probably can’t happen without popular support.
- It could also happen in Congress. But since the Republicans seem strongly against it – Marco Rubio recently flip-flopped on his support for equality in SSR, I assume in response to pressure from the GOP base – I don’t think it’ll happen in Congress unless the Democrats hold majorities in both chambers. [↩]