By Ed Hasbrouck and the Selective Service committee
As fundamentally antiwar and anti-imperialist organizations, the National Lawyers Guild and its Military Law Task Force oppose the military draft in all its forms. We oppose the current mandatory registration with the Selective Service System for a possible future draft and any attempt to expand draft registration or reinstate a draft. We also oppose the “poverty draft” where high schools are encouraged to direct low income and minority students to the military as a vehicle for education and jobs.
As the legal arm of the anti-draft movement, our goal is to help coordinate and facilitate the work of anti-draft lawyers and legal workers who provide advice and assistance to those subject to the draft and draft registration. Our work includes networking, referrals, and sharing of resources, strategies, and tactics. We also work with other organizations to demilitarize our schools and recognize that the military is not a jobs plan.
The NLG and the MLTF oppose the current draft registration requirement and the current criminal and civil penalties for non-registration. We oppose reinstatement of any form of military draft, and we support the Selective Service Repeal Act. We believe that compulsory military service is unconstitutional, and that a draft is most likely to be used to fight illegal and immoral wars, as with the last draft in the U.S. during the war in Indochina. Even when a draft is not active, draft registration and contingency planning and preparations for a draft encourage a mistaken belief that the draft is always available as a “fallback” option. This emboldens war planners and enables military adventurism.
What is the Selective Service System?
Let’s back up and look at what Selective Service is, and what your rights are within that system.
The Selective Service System (SSS) is the Federal agency that carries out ongoing planning and preparation for a military draft. Male U.S. citizens and residents ages 18 through 25 are required to register with the SSS within 30 days of their 18th birthday and to notify the SSS within 10 days of any change of address, until their 26th birthday. The SSS also has contingency plans for a special draft of health care workers, male and female, up to age 45.
Women are not currently required to register with the SSS. But women are included in contingency plans for the Health Care Personnel Delivery System. Congress is currently considering(?) proposals either to require young women to register for the draft, or to end draft registration entirely.
Knowing and willful non-registration with the SSS is a crime, although compliance with the law is low and nobody has been prosecuted for non-registration since the 1980s. However, federal and state laws (some of them constitutionally questionable) impose a variety of extrajudicial penalties for non-registration. In particular, men who don’t register with the SSS before their 26th birthday are barred for life from any federal job. And in many states any man under age 26 who applies for a driver’s license or learner’s permit is automatically registered with the SSS, often without realizing it.
Your rights under the Selective Service System
Don’t count on the SSS or other government agencies to inform you about your rights. Talk to a draft counselor and/or a lawyer with expertise in Selective Service law before you register with the SSS, talk to the SSS, or respond to any correspondence or messages from the SSS, the FBI, or the Department of Justice. The Military Law Task Force is ready to help, or to provide referrals to those who can help, with questions about Selective Service law.
Our SSS related program work can address the needs of several groups:
- Young people with questions about registration with the Selective Service System. In many states, draft-age male applicants for a driver’s licenses or learner’s permit are automatically registered with the SSS. So you might be registered without realizing it.
- Health care workers with questions about the Health Care Personnel Delivery System.
- Women with questions about their legal rights if Congress decides to require them to register with the SSS.
- People who have been denied access to Federal, state, or local programs (government jobs, etc.) because they have not registered with the SSS.
- Draft counselors with legal questions about Selective Service and registration, including questions about what will happen if a draft is reinstated.
- Lawyers and legal workers looking for a network of specialists in Selective Service law.
Ways you can contribute to MLTF’s anti-draft work
We consist of and rely on a mostly volunteer network of lawyers, law students, and legal workers. Please contact the Task Force if you’d like to learn more about Selective Service law, join our referral network, participate in or help organize trainings in Selective Service law and draft counseling, share legal resources, or help with any aspect of our work. We welcome lawyers, law students, and legal workers. It It is notable that non-lawyers have historically played an especially important role in anti-draft legal work, as draft counselors and other types of legal workers.
We want to make sure that all those facing the draft and draft registration, or sanctions for non-registration, have access to qualified counsel. We work to serve those facing draft registration and sanctions for non-registration today, and to prepare for the possibility of expansion of draft registration and/or activation of a general draft or draft of health care workers or others with special skills wanted by the military. In addition, we seek to provide a mutual support network and resources for lawyers and legal workers in this field.
Call for articles
In addition to volunteering your knowledge and skills in direct counseling of affected individuals, we welcome proposals for articles for our website or the MLTF journal On Watch. Selective Service law article topics might include:
- Analysis of the Military Selective Service Act, regulations of the Selective Service System, and other related Federal and state laws and regulations.
- Proposed Federal and state legislation related to Selective Service, including the Selective Service Repeal Act, proposals to expand Selective Service registration to women as well as men, and proposals for changes to state laws related to Selective Service.
- Draft counseling and legal resources for draft counselors. The Center on Conscience and War may be able to provide referrals to trained draft counselors. A draft counselor can be especially helpful if you have already registered with the SSS, or have decided to register, and are considering applying for classification as a conscientious objector, or for some other deferment or exemption, if a draft is reinstated and you are ordered to report.
- Civil litigation related to Federal and state laws that impose extrajudicial sanctions on individuals who have not registered with the SSS.
- Criminal defense of anyone threatened with prosecution for violation of the Military Selective Service Act, if prosecutions are resumed. (Nobody has been investigated or prosecuted for any violation of the MSSA since 1986.)
- Networking and resource sharing with other lawyers, legal workers, and draft counselors.
Contact us if you would like to discuss an article idea.