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Even though the U.S. hasn't had a military draft since 1973, all men, whether citizens or U.S. residents, are required to register with the Selective Service once they turn 18. Late last week, a federal judge declared that exempting women from that requirement violates the Constitution's equal protection principles. This does not yet mean women will have to register. NPR's David Welna reports on what happens next.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Gray Miller did not tell the Selective Service System to stop requiring all 18-year-old men to register. The Houston-based judge simply rejected the arguments that agency had made for limiting that requirement to men.
MARC ANGELUCCI: There really is no more excuse to only require men to register.
WELNA: That's Marc Angelucci. He's the lawyer who sued the Selective Service on behalf of the National Coalition for Men, a group that advocates for what it calls men's rights. He also serves as its board's vice president. Angelucci says since women are now allowed to serve anywhere in the military, including combat positions, there's no longer a plausible argument for exempting them from the obligation to sign up for a possible draft.
ANGELUCCI: We take no position on whether there should or shouldn't be a draft or even on whether or not women should be in combat. Our concern is that if there is a requirement to register and women are allowed in combat, then women should share the same responsibilities as men because with equal rights comes equal responsibility.
WELNA: Angelucci says he may now seek a court injunction to halt the male-only draft registration. The Selective Service has yet to file an appeal in this case. In the meantime, says Selective Service legislative liaison Jacob Daniels, it's business as usual.
JACOB DANIELS: Things continue here at Selective Service as they have in the past, which is men between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register with Selective Service. And at this time, until we receive guidance from either the court or from Congress, women are not required to register for Selective Service.
WELNA: The Selective Service unsuccessfully argued that the court should postpone any decision until after a National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service set up by Congress issues its final report a year from now. Former Republican Congressman Joe Heck, who chairs that commission, says that report will recommend whether women should register for the draft.
JOE HECK: It is a critically important question that we will answer. It is the No. 1 charge that was given to us by Congress. But where we will be on that answer is yet to be determined.
WELNA: In a statement, Heck says the judge having found male-only draft registration unconstitutional means that, quote, "change is inevitable, and the status quo is untenable." Still, whatever Heck's commission does recommend to Congress, it won't be binding. Three years ago, Congress did take up legislation requiring women to register for the draft, but it ran into a buzz saw of opposition from lawmakers such as Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
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TED CRUZ: It is a radical change that is attempting to be foisted on the American people.
WELNA: Not all Republicans see it that way. Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, like Cruz, serves on the Armed Services Committee.
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THOM TILLIS: If we're going to continue to make progress and not have any differentiation between men and women in the workforce, I think it's an issue that we should look at.
WELNA: Another Armed Services member, Illinois Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth, lost both legs when the Blackhawk helicopter she was flying got shot down in Iraq.
TAMMY DUCKWORTH: As long as all of the positions are open to women, then yes, I think that both young men and women in this nation should be given equal opportunity to serve. And that means everyone registers.
WELNA: The issue could end up before the Supreme Court, unless Congress acts first. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE SHAOLIN AFRONAUTS' "A JOURNEY THROUGH TIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.