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From Draft NOtices, January-March 2017

Uncertainties over Female Draft Registration and Future of Selective Service

— Rick Jahnkow

For the time being, efforts in Congress to require women to register for the draft have failed. Language with the requirement in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 was deleted from the final version passed by Congress in December 2016. Instead, Congress voted to establish a National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, with a mandate to study whether “there continues to be a continuous or potential need for a military selective service process. And if so, whether such a system should include mandatory registration by all citizens and residents, regardless of sex [sic]."

Among other things, the commission is to consider “means by which to foster a greater attitude and ethos of service among United States youth, including an increased propensity for military service.” It also will consider “the feasibility and advisability” of modifying the “selective service process” to affect eligibility or entitlement for the receipt of federal benefits, such as student loans, grants or hiring preferences. The language regarding this is ambiguous enough that it could include making national service mandatory as a condition for receiving such benefits. Such proposals have been made in the past but never succeeded in the legislature.

To assist the commission, the Department of Defense is required to submit a report, not later than July 1, 2017, to congressional armed services committees and the commission. The DoD report must address the current and future need for a centralized draft registration system, “the extent to which mandatory registration benefits military recruiting,” the extent to which a registration capability “serves as a deterrent to potential enemies of the United States,” and “the extent to which expanding registration to include women would impact these benefits.”

The Commission on Military, National, and Public Service must report its findings and recommendations within 30 months of its formation. It is required to conduct public hearings on recommendations it is considering.

With the establishment of this commission, Congress has created the conditions for an eventual public and legislative debate on the future of draft registration. In the immediate future, the issue of registering women under the current Selective Service system will hinge on whether the incoming Trump administration decides to continue or cancel the Obama administration policy of opening military combat jobs to women. If the policy is unchanged, a lawsuit that is already proceeding in the courts could result in termination of male-only draft registration, which would then push Congress toward immediately debating and voting on the issue. If Trump reverses the policy on women in combat, court challenges based on discrimination would be preempted and Congress might then wait for the commission report before taking up the issue.

It should be noted that legislation to completely repeal the Military Selective Service Act and terminate draft registration has been introduced in the recent past, but if pursued now it may not get a congressional hearing while a report is pending from the Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

For more information, contact: Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft, Also, see

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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