Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter’s landmark decision Thursday to open all jobs to women in the military was greeted by many as a sign of changing times and a move toward true gender equality. But it also raises a related question: Will women be required for the first time ever to register for military drafts, and is it constitutional if they are not?
The Selective Service System has existed for decades, and is used to provide the U.S. military with enough manpower when it short-handed in a time of war. A variation of it was adopted in 1917, as the United States prepared to join World War I, and it has been updated over the years.
Selective Service laws, however, have never required women to subject themselves to the draft and face the prospect of being forced into military service. The current version of the Military Selective Service Act requires that virtually all men in the United States between the ages of 18 and 26 register, most within 30 days of turning 18. That includes non-U.S. citizens living in the United States, such as refugees. But women are entirely exempt.