A U.S. District Court judge in Minnesota yesterday struck down a 1982 law denying federal student aid to young men who failed to register for the draft, saying it unconstitutionally penalized students without benefit of trial and violated their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
Judge Donald D. Alsop issued an order prohibiting the government from enforcing the law "in any state" and requiring the Department of Education to send a notice of the prohibition to student financial aid officers by June 30.
The decision voided Education Department regulations requiring students to disclose their draft status on their applications for grants or loans.
Justice Department attorney Neil Koslowe, who argued the case, said the government would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. Yesterday the department asked Alsop to stay his order pending the outcome of the appeal. Alsop said he would rule on the request Monday.
Applications for financial aid are due by July 1.
Dennis Martin of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators said that, since Alsop issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law on March 9, "most institutions have not been making students complete the section of the forms" concerning draft registration status.
"It is clear to the court," Alsop wrote, "that the law determines guilt and inflicts punishment on an identifiable group based on the past act of nonregistration without the protections of a judicial trial." He added that the government has no right to compel draft-age men "to provide evidence of their registration status," in violation of their Fifth Amendment rights.
Alsop also rejected the government's request to limit the effect of his ruling to Minnesota. "The legislation is national in character and effect," he said.
The law's disclosure requirements had been scheduled to go into effect in the coming academic year. Education Department regulations were amended this spring to lift, for two years, a companion requirement that colleges verify students' draft status.
The Minnesota Civil Liberties Union had filed suit on behalf of six students--one of whom has since become ineligible for student aid--at universities and colleges in Minnesota. The suit was filed using pseudonyms because, according to MCLU attorney Amy Silberberg, "these people are in potential danger of being prosecuted."
"This shows that if the government wants to punish people for not registering, they've got to give them due process of law first," said David Landau, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Rep. Gerald B. Solomon (R-N.Y.), one of the law's sponsors, said in a statement, "I share the confidence of the Department of Justice that the law . . . will be upheld on appeal . . . . It reflects the overwhelming sense of the Congress and the American people that federal student aid is a privilege that should be extended only to those who live up to their obligations as American citizens."