WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether it is gender discrimination for the government to require only men to enroll in the project when they turn 18.
Whether it is unconstitutional to compel men but not women to register could be seen as having little practical impact. The last time there was any conscription was during the Vietnam War, and the military has been entirely voluntary ever since. But the registration requirement is one of the few places where federal law treats men and women differently, and women’s groups are among those who argue that allowing it is harmful.
Judges could say as early as Monday whether they will hear a case over the Selective Military Service Act, which requires men to register for the project.
Ria Tabacco Mar, director of the women’s rights project of the American Civil Liberties Union, which urges the court to take up the matter, says requiring men to register imposes a “serious a burden on men which is not imposed on women ”.
Men who do not register may lose their eligibility for student loans and public service jobs, and failure to register is also a felony punishable by a fine of up to $ 250,000 and up to five years. from prison. But Tabacco Mar says the men’s requirement does more than that.
“It also sends an extremely damaging message that women are less able than men to serve their country in this particular way and, conversely, that men are less able than women to stay at home as caregivers in the event of a crisis. armed conflict. We believe these stereotypes demean both men and women, ”she said.
Even though the project is never used again, maintaining the male-only requirement sends a “really damaging message,” said Tabacco Mar, who represents the National Coalition For Men and two men challenging the law.
A group of retired senior military officers and the National Women’s Organization Foundation are among the others urging the court to take up the case.
If the court agrees to hear the case, it would not be a question of whether women should register, but simply whether the current system is constitutional. If not, then it would be up to Congress to decide how to respond, either by passing a law requiring everyone to register, or by deciding that registration is no longer necessary.
The question of who should register for the project has already been submitted to the court. In 1981, the court voted 6-3 to maintain the registration requirement for men only. At the time, the ruling was somewhat aberrant because the court routinely overturned distinctions based on sex in cases involving other areas of law. Many of these cases were brought by the founding director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who became a judge in 1993.
The last time the High Court reviewed the Military Selective Service Act, then-judge William Rehnquist explained that the purpose of the registration “was to prepare a conscription of combat troops.” He said that because women could not serve in combat, the law was not unlawful sex discrimination that violated the Constitution.
But military policy has changed. In 2013, the Defense Ministry lifted the ban on women serving in combat. Two years later, the department said all military roles would be open to women without exception.
Just last year, a congressional committee concluded that “the time has come” to extend the registration requirement to women. “The current disparate treatment of women unacceptably excludes women from a basic civic obligation and reinforces gender stereotypes about the role of women, compromising national security,” the commission said in a report.
The Biden administration is urging judges not to take the case into their own hands and let Congress tackle the problem instead. Lawyers for the administration wrote in a brief that any “re-examination of the constitutionality of the male-only registration requirement … would be premature at this time” as Congress “is actively considering” the matter.
The Selective Service System, the agency that oversees the registration, said in a statement that it does not comment on pending litigation, but is “capable of performing any mission that Congress should mandate.”
If the court agrees to take the case, the arguments would not take place until the fall at the earliest, after the court’s summer recess. The tribunal already has high-profile cases awaiting it then. They include a major challenge to abortion rights and a call to expand gun rights.
The case concerning the project is National Coalition For Men v. Selective Service System, 20-928.