Girls just want to get drafted: Lawsuit challenges male-only Selective Service

© Erik De Castro
A New Jersey teen has launched a class-action lawsuit against the US draft system, claiming its exclusion of women is unfair discrimination. With current Pentagon policies allowing women in combat roles, she says, the law should follow suit.

Filed by 17-year-old E.K.L., identified as Elizabeth Kyle by, through her mother Allison Kyle, the complaint states the Military Selective Service Act violates the civil rights of women aged 18-25 by making them ineligible to sign up for the draft registry. Under the law, all male US residents are required to register.

In the complaint, E.K.L. says she tried to register for the draft on the Selective Service website, only to be rejected when she checked the “female” option.

“With both males and females available for such roles today, the two sexes are now similarly situated for draft registration purposes and there is no legitimate reason for the government to discriminate against the female class, so equal protection applies,” says the complaint, cited by Courthouse News.

“Further, with both males and females available for such combat roles, there is no reasonable basis for infringing the associational interests of the female class by preventing them from registering.”

Banning women from the pool of potential recruits is not rational, given the current roles women play in the US military, the lawsuit argues.

“If the two sexes can fight and die together, they can register together; if not, then no one should have to register,” the complaint states.

The first Selective Service Act was introduced in 1917 to raise troops for the US entry into WW1 after voluntary enlistments were slow to materialize. Another draft law was enacted in 1940 for WW2. Fueled by the resentment of the draft during the Vietnam War, Selective Service registration was abolished by President Gerald Ford in 1975, but reinstated under the Carter administration in 1980. In all cases, the requirements applied to men only.

Currently, all male US citizens and non-citizen immigrants are required to register with Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Proof of registration is required for access to various federal programs, such as student loans, and as a pre-requisite for federal employment and naturalization.

While women have been allowed to join the military for years, they were kept away from the front lines under the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule. The rule was officially repealed in 2013. 

According to the complaint, after the removal of the ban on women in combat, units involved in “forward operations” opened up 53,000 positions to women, while the military added an additional 184,000 positions for infantry and special operations troops.

With the courts cracking down on military discrimination by sex in recent years – for example, opening up the traditionally all-male military academies to female cadets – legal experts expected a challenge to the Selective Service system sooner or later. Rather than a man arguing about the unfair burden of the sex-specific law, however, the challenge came from a woman.

In her complaint, E.K.L. cited the January 2013 press conference by then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, announcing the abolition of the 1994 rule.

"Female service members have faced the reality of combat, proven their willingness to fight and, yes, to die to defend their fellow Americans,” he said. “In life, as we all know, there are no guarantees of success. Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier. But everyone is entitled to a chance… As secretary, when I've gone to Bethesda to visit wounded warriors, and when I've gone to Arlington to bury our dead, there is no distinction that's made between the sacrifices of men and women in uniform. They serve, they're wounded, and they die right next to each other. The time has come to recognize that reality.”

The complaint seeks to represent US women between the ages of 18 and 25, and names the Director of Selective Services Lawrence Romo as the defendant.