A federal judge has ruled that a men-only draft is unconstitutional, but he stopped short of ordering the Selective Service System to register women for military service.
The Houston judge sided with a San Diego men's advocacy group that challenged the government's practice of having only men sign up for the draft, citing sex discrimination in violation of the Fifth Amendment's equal protection clause.
"This case balances on the tension between the constitutionally enshrined power of Congress to raise armies and the constitutional mandate that no person be denied the equal protection of the law," wrote U.S. District Judge Gray Miller of the Southern District of Texas.
The lawsuit was filed in 2013 against the Selective Service System by Texas resident James Lesmeister, who later added San Diego resident Anthony Davis and the San Diego-based National Coalition for Men as additional plaintiffs.
The two men had standing to sue the government because they were within the age range of 18 to 26 in which men in the United States are required to register with Selective Service.
Coalition attorney Marc Angelucci said in a statement on Saturday that he is pleased with the court decision.
"Forcing only males to register is an aspect of socially institutionalized male disposability and helps reinforce the stereotypes that support discrimination against men in other areas" such as divorce, child custody and domestic violence services, Angelucci said.
"Women are now allowed in combat, so this decision is long overdue," he added. "After decades of sex discrimination against men in the Selective Service, the courts have finally found it unconstitutional to force only men to register."
The government asked the judge to dismiss the suit or stay a decision until a national commission studying the issue of women's draft registration reaches a recommendation.
The judge noted that could take years, and even then Congress isn't required to follow the commission's findings.
"Congress has been debating the male-only registration requirement since at least 1980," Miller wrote.
The government pointed to a 1981 U.S. Supreme Court decision that the Military Selective Service Act was constitutional as written, to exclude women, because women restricted from combat were not offered similar opportunities that men had.
Miller found that reasoning no longer applicable, since the Department of Defense lifted all gender-based restrictions on military service — including combat roles — in 2015.
The judge likewise disagreed with the government's position that drafting women would be an administrative burden and that far more women than men will be found physically unfit for service after being drafted.
Congress has expressed few concerns about female physical ability, but did focus more on societal consequences of drafting young mothers to go off to war, Miller said.
"If there was ever a time to discuss 'the place of women in the Armed Services,' that time has passed," Miller concluded.
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