Draft Registration on Track for 2021 Debate in Congress and Supreme Court

The military draft is still on the back burner. But the issue – and specifically whether to (finally) end draft registration or try to expand it to young women as well as young men – is on track to be debated in Congress and quite possibly the Supreme Court in 2021.

Here’s some of what’s happened recently:

A new documentary film about draft resistance during the U.S. war in Indochina, The Boys Who Said No, opens today online, with streaming throughout the US The film features archival footage of, and recent interviews with, David Harris, Muhammad Ali, Joan Baez, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others whose names are less well known but whose actions were and are no less significant. Showings and discussions about the film are a great opportunity to let people know that the draft is still an issue today.

In an interview with a an organization of military officers, Presidential candidate Joe Biden has announced that he supports expanding the Selective Service registration requirement to women.

The deadline for an appeal to the Supreme Court of the decision on the Constitutionality of requiring men but not women to register for the draft is January 11, 2021. The plaintiffs are still deciding whether to appeal, but there’s a good chance the Supreme Court would decide to hear the case, putting more pressure on Congress to consider the issue.

Hearings on possibly expanding draft registration to young women as,well as young men have been announced in both the House and the Senate, but have been postponed indefinitely. I suspect that hearings won’t be held until 2021, but it’s not too soon to talk to members of Congress. It’s especially important to put pressure on Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo, CA), Chair of the Subcommittee on Military Personnel of the House Armed Services Committee, to hold full and fair House hearings that:

  1. include anti-war and anti-draft witnesses;
  2. consider H.R. 5492 or its successor bill in 2021 to end draft registration (not just bills to adopt the NCMNPS recommendations); and
  3. include consideration of compliance, noncompliance, and enforcement plans and budgets – the Achilles heel of draft registration.

Rep. Speier has long been a cheerleader for expanding draft registration to women, including during House debate in 2016. But she might be open to pressure to at least give the issue a fair hearing.

The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service shut down on September 18th at the conclusion of its term as a temporary agency.

The records of the NCMNPS have been transferred to the National Archives. I’m still pursuing my FOIA requests, now with the Archives. In the last two weeks before it shut down, the NCMNPS finally provided partial (although still incomplete) responses to some of my FOIA requests, including many previously-undisclosed comments from the public. Most of the comments received from the public were never released by the NCMNPS or counted in its report to Congress.

A week before the NCMNPS was disbanded, they sent me two e-mailmessages (in response to a request I made months earlier), revealing that the NCMNPS held a previously-undisclosed week-long meeting in July 2019 that included a line-item “VOTE-A-RAMA” to decide on its recommendations.

This strongly suggests that much of the “public comment” period, including the only meeting by members of the NCMNPS with antiwar and anti-draft organizations and activists in November 2019 and public comments submitted through December 2019 (many of them at the end of the comment period, naturally) was a sham. The NCMNPS was only pretending to “consider” antiwar input, and had long since decided what to recommend. I’ve made a new FOIA request to the National Archives for records of what options were considered, and what was decided, at the “VOTE-A-RAMA”.

With COVID-19 affecting both military recruiting and counter-recruiting, moves to expand draft registration are continuing. It’s time for antiwar voices to be heard in that debate.

Edward Hasbrouck maintains the Resisters.info website and published the "Resistance News" newsletter. He was imprisoned in 1983-1984 for organizing resistance to draft registration.