Good News and Bad News for the Military Draft in 2021

Applicants for Federal financial aid for higher education will no longer be required to have registered with the Selective Service System for a possible military draft or answer questions about their Selective Service registration status or compliance.

Among the provisions included in the 2000+ page coronavirus pandemic relief and Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, which was signed into law by President Trump on Sunday, is a section (Title VII, Section 701 et seq.) which effectively repeals the 1982 "Solomon Amendment" that has required men to have registered for the draft in order to be eligible for Federal student grants or loans. The new law also requires the Department of Education to remove the questions about Selective Service registration from the FAFSA student aid application form.

This section of the “Consolidated Appropriations Act” is one of many entirely unrelated sections, most of which had been pending in Congress as separate bills but had not been acted on, that were tacked onto the “must-pass” pandemic relief and government funding bill in last-minute, closed-door wheeling and dealing by Congressional leaders.

(The "Solomon Amendments" making draft registration a condition of eligibility for Federal programs were the brainchild of Rep. Gerald Solomon, an otherwise undistinguished Republican member of Congress from Long Island, NY. I never met Rep. Solomon, but I did get into an exchange with him on the letters-to-the-editor page of the New York Times in response to a front-page article about his legislation. On the same day, while I was in prison, Rep. Solomon denounced me as a “yuppie” and the Assistant Director of the Selective Service System called me “deluded”. I took both their ad hominem attacks as indicative of their fear that readers of the Times might actually listen to what I had said – and would continue to say – about the failure of draft registration.)

What does this mean for draft-age men, and for older men who never registered with the Selective Service System?

It’s not clear how soon the questions about Selective Service registration will be removed from the FAFSA form, or how soon men who haven’t registered for the draft will be able to apply for and receive Federal education grants or loans. But men under age 26 will no longer have to choose between money for college and agreeing to kill or be killed at the direction of the Commander-In-Chief. And men who didn’t register before they turned 26, who until now have been disqualified for life from Federal student aid, will have their eligibility restored if they want to go back to school.

All of the other Federal and state laws linking Selective Service registration to Federal jobs and – in some but by no means all states – drivers licenses, state jobs, and state college financial aid, remain unchanged. These eligibility conditions have been attached to ever more Federal programs over the years. The latest action overturning the Selective Service condition for Federal student aid is, so far as I know, the first is time any of these provisions has been reversed.

H.R. 5492, the bill pending in the House of Representatives to end draft registration and abolish the Selective Service System, would also repeal, override, or preempt all of the Federal and state sanctions for nonregistration. H.R. 5492 is about to expire when Congress adjourns, but is expected to be reintroduced in the new Congress, with a new bill number.

What does this mean for the Selective Service System, draft registration, and the draft?

Contrary to popular belief, the requirement to register for the draft in order to be eligible for Federal student aid has never been the main driver of draft registration, or a sufficient incentive to get most young men to comply with the law. Linkages to Federal student aid have generated fewer than half as many Selective Service registrations as linkages to drivers licenses.

Not everybody goes to college, and nonregistration has always been primarily a tactic of the non-college-bound and/or undocumented underclass, not the upper class.

Compliance with the registration requirement is already so low as to make the registration requirement unenforceable and a draft unfeasible. Removing the linkage to student aid will lower compliance even further.

What does this mean for attempts to expand draft registration to young women as well as young men?

After years of delay, Congress is about to make a decision in 2021 either to finally end draft registration or to try to expand registration to include young women as well as young men.

Unless opposition to draft registration and the likelihood of resistance by young women becomes more visible to Congress, a provision to authorize the President to order women to register with Selective Service is likely to be the subject of Congressional hearings in early 2021, and will be incorporated into the Fiscal Year 2022 annual “National Defense Authorization Act” which will be enacted in late 2021 and take effect in 2022. Depending on the effective date of this provision of the FY 2022 NDAA and the terms of the proclamation by President Biden which will put it into effect by ordering women to register, women born in 2005 or after will probably be required to register for the draft as they turn 18, starting January 1, 2023.

If you don’t want this to happen, educate, agitate, and organize against the draft and draft registration – now!

I hope I’m wrong about this prediction, and that Congress will decide to end draft registration rather than to expand it to young women as well as young men. What happens will depend on the actions of young women who would be required to register for a possible draft, young men who are already required to register, and older allies.

President-Elect Biden supports expanding draft registration to women. Biden has named one of the members of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service who made this recommendation to his cabinet, and another former member of the NCMNPS to his transition team. I expect that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic Party leadership will also support this proposal. The outcome in the Senate is less clear, since some pro-war sexist Senators support a draft and draft registration but oppose drafting women. Visible indications that young women will resist, and that older allies will support them in their resistance, may be key to the outcome.

Eliminating the linkage between draft registration and Federal student aid will enable more women to consider resistance. It’s not likely to be decisive. But it’s hard to understand why the same Congressional leaders who are preparing to push through the most significant expansion of the Selective Service System and step toward military conscription in 40 years have simultaneously worked behind the scenes to overturn a long-standing Federal financial incentive for Selective Service registration. Is there some political chess game I don’t understand being played here? Or did the right hand not fully realize what the left hand was doing?

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