By MARSHA MERCER
Few may have noticed when a federal judge ruled that requiring only men, and not women, to register for the draft is unconstitutional now that all military jobs are open to women.
“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,’” U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller wrote.
The ruling issued Friday in Houston doesn’t change anything, but it does raise a larger question: Why should anyone – male or female -- have to register for the draft in 2019?
The last man was drafted into military service in 1973. And yet today, male citizens and residents of the United States ages 18 through 25, including documented and undocumented immigrants, still must register for the draft – or risk fines and prison time. On paper, anyway.
No one has been prosecuted for failing to register since 1986, the Congressional Research Service reported in January in a study of selective service and the draft issues for Congress.
Many young men register for the draft automatically when they get their driver’s license or apply for federal student aid.
The Selective Service System -- 124 full-time employees “complemented with a corps of volunteers and military reservists” -- keeps a database in a Chicago suburb with 78 million records, CRS reported.
The data – names, addresses, Social Security numbers -- are retained until a registrant turns 85 – yes, 85! -- in case the information is needed to certify someone is eligible for federal student aid, training, government jobs and security clearances.
The Selective Service annual budget of nearly $23 million is peanuts by federal standards, but it’s wasteful to spend even that much on an unused and unneeded agency. The rationale that we might need to mobilize manpower quickly with a draft is antiquated in the age of modern warfare, critics say.
And the Pentagon?
“We don’t want a draft,” then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who opened all military jobs to women in 2015, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2016.
“We don’t want people chosen for us. We want to pick people. That’s what the all-volunteer force is all about. That’s why the all-volunteer force is so excellent,” Carter said.
The Trump administration hasn’t taken a stand, but Congress has wrestled for decades with the Selective Service System and the draft. It finally punted.
Congress created the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service in 2017 to come up with recommendations. As the name suggests, the commission is charged with finding ways to weave various kinds of service into the fabric of American life.
The commission spent last year listening to people across the country and has more hearings scheduled. A final report and recommendations are due to Congress in March 2020. Read more at www.inspire2serve.gov.
“Our conversations underscored that while service is encouraged by many families, schools and communities, there is no widely held expectation of service in the United States,” commission Chairman Joe Heck, former Republican congressman from Nevada, a physician and brigadier general in the Army Reserves, wrote in an Interim Report in January.
“As a result, military, national and public service is the exception rather than the rule,” he wrote.
While many agree that shared voluntary service for young people especially is a worthy goal, the report laid out challenges.
Whether someone wants to join the military or not, it’s a national disgrace that only about 30 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds meet the physical, mental and moral requirements for the military.
The Army failed to reach its recruiting goal last year for the first time since 2005, partly because fewer young people even think of joining the military.
As for national service, few Americans know about the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and Teach for America, the report said.
So, if the Selective Service System is a dinosaur – and it is – let’s scrap it and dedicate our resources to making voluntary service a shared expectation.
Let’s return to a time-tested, 20th century ideal: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” That would make America truly great.
©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.