A federal judge has ruled that requiring men but not women to register for selective service is unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller, in a ruling issued in Houston on Friday, denied the government’s motion to stay a lawsuit brought by the National Coalition for Men, a “men’s rights” group. The group argued the Military Selective Service Act violated the 14th Amendment’s clause for equal protection under the law.
The judge noted that a 1981 Supreme Court case, Rostker v. Goldberg, ruled that a male-only draft was justified because women weren’t allowed to serve in combat. But since then, “women’s opportunities in the military have expanded dramatically,” the judge wrote. All gender-based restrictions on military service were lifted in 2015.
“While historical restrictions on women in the military may have justified past discrimination, men and women are now ‘similarly situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft,’” Miller wrote.
While the draft was technically discontinued in 1973 after the Vietnam War, men ages 18 to 26 are required to sign up for the Selective Service System, a register that can be used in case quick military conscription is deemed necessary. Men can be denied programs such as federal student loans if they fail to sign up.
The judge’s ruling is declaratory, which means it doesn’t force the government to immediately take action. But it comes as the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service is reviewing the need for a military draft, including whether women should be subject. It expects to issue a final report in March 2020. An interim report acknowledged various opinions on women and the draft, but didn’t indicate which way the commission was leaning.
Conservatives in Congress tanked a bipartisan effort to require women to sign up for the draft in November 2016. “I cannot in good conscience vote to draft our daughters into the military, sending them off to war and forcing them into combat,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said earlier in the year.