In the 1981 case of Rostker v. Goldberg, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of male-only draft registration in part because women were barred from combat roles, and female draftees are therefore less valuable to the military than male ones would be. In the thirty years since then, more and more combat roles have been opened up to women, and the Pentagon’s most recent decision is likely to eliminate most if not all remaining gender-based restrictions. So that rationale for a male-only draft is undercut.But then-Justice William Rehnquist’s majority opinion also relied heavily the courts’ “lack of competence” on national security issues and the consequent need for “healthy deference to legislative and executive judgments in the area of military affairs.” That deference might justify upholding male-only draft registration even if all or most combat positions are open to women….Lower courts applying Rostker could… still conclude that male-only draft registration is constitutional, though Rostker is ambiguous enough on the amount of deference due, that issue is not a slam dunk. If the issue gets to the Supreme Court however, I’m far from certain that Rostker wouldn’t be overruled or severely limited. As compared with 1981, the idea of women serving in combat is far more widely accepted by both elite and public opinion. And sex discrimination in draft registration is likely to seem like an outdated relic of the days when women were barred from numerous positions in the military.
December 7, 2015 at 11:00 AM EST