Will Women Have To Register for the Draft?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Jan. 28 2013 1:28 PM

Uncle Sam Might Want You

Will women have to register for the next military draft?

Members of Female Engagement Team (FET), U.S. Marines
Members of Female Engagement Team (FET), U.S. Marines

Photo by Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced last week that women would be allowed to serve in combat, opening hundreds of thousands of jobs to female soldiers. Explainer readers are wondering: Now that women can officially take to the battlefield alongside men, do they have to register for the Selective Service?

Not just yet. When President Jimmy Carter renewed the Selective Service in 1980 in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Congress decided not to require women to register, in part because women could not serve in combat. Legislators also feared public outrage over ordering women to sign up for a potential draft, a move that would have been unprecedented in U.S. history. (One of the most effective arguments against the Equal Rights Amendment of the 1970s was the possibility that it would force women into the draft and military combat.) A group of men sued the government over the decision, arguing that the move violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Although the challengers won in a lower court, the Supreme Court ultimately sided with the government in a 6-3 vote.

Neither Congress nor the administration has announced plans to open the Selective Service to women since last week’s historic announcement, but there’s a good chance that could change in the near future. The Supreme Court’s decision in 1981 was based largely on the exclusion of women from combat. If Congress doesn’t open the draft database to women in the near future, the Supreme Court might force its hand, deciding that there’s no legal basis for distinguishing between men and women anymore.

Advertisement

Long before America contemplated sending women into battle, Congress considered drafting them. During World War II, the military automatically discharged any member of the Army Nurse Corps who married, leading to a shortage of nurses. In 1945, the House passed the Nurses Selective Service Act, which would have required the registration of young women with nursing credentials. President Roosevelt pushed the idea in his State of the Union speech, but, with the war nearing its end, the Senate decided the historic move was no longer necessary.

Canada established its own National Selective Service Women’s Division during World War II, although it wasn’t equivalent to a draft. The agency was merely a resource to help match willing female workers with open industrial jobs in the country’s growing cities.

Got a question about today’s news? Ask the Explainer.

Brian Palmer is Slate's chief explainer. He also writes How and Why and Ecologic for the Washington Post. Email him at explainerbrian@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 8:15 AM Ted Cruz Will Not Join a Protest of "The Death of Klinghoffer" After All
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 9:03 AM My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. And Then I Found Myself With Someone Like Dad.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 8:27 AM Only Science Fiction Can Save Us! What sci-fi gets wrong about income inequality.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 7:30 AM Ring Around the Rainbow
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.