After a lengthy closed-door review of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2022, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved language in the bill that would require young women to register for the draft.
According to a summary the NDAA released Thursday, it highlights the change, saying the new bill is amending “the Military Selective Service Act to require the registration of women for Selective Service.”
Prior to adding women to the draft, males aged 18 through 25 were and still are required to register with the Selective Service System. Currently, the Department of Defense says they will keep the forces voluntary.
The U.S. Select Services System’s records say that from the late 1940s until 1973, “during both peacetime and periods of conflict, men were drafted to fill vacancies in the armed forces which could not be filled through voluntary means.”
Congress first considered making draft registration for women a requirement in 2016, even though all military combat jobs were open to women on a volunteer basis. Although that year’s version of the NDAA included a provision requiring women to register for the draft, it was dropped before the floor vote in the House.
Congress decided instead to create a commission to consider and review the draft requirement for women. In 2020 the commission recommended including women in the draft was fair.
In June 2021, the Supreme Court refused to take up a case challenging the constitutionality of the all-male draft, citing the expectation that Congress would soon consider the issue.
“It remains to be seen, of course, whether Congress will end gender-based registration under the Military Selective Service Act,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in an opinion, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Brett Kavanaugh. “But at least for now, the Court’s longstanding deference to Congress on matters of national defense and military affairs cautions against granting review while Congress actively weighs the issue.”
When the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service published its report in March 2020, the report said, “This is a necessary and fair step, making it possible to draw on the talent of a unified nation in a time of national emergency.”
Members of the commission presented their findings to the Senate Armed Services Committee in a March hearing. During the hearing, Reed reiterated his support for drafting women.
“As many of my colleagues will recall, the immediate and legislative concern that gave rise to the commission was the military Selective Service System, and whether it continues to meet the needs of the nation today,” said Chairman of the committee Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).
“In addition, when the Department of Defense opened all military positions to service by women in 2016, the question was raised whether women should register for the selective service and if there were constitutional concerns if women were not required to register. As I stated then, I believe that women should be included in military selective service,” said Reed.
Although Ranking member Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) did not go on record about his support for drafting women, he did say he was glad the commission encountered opposition to the idea during their discussions with families around the country.
“I’d say one of the things that were probably most controversial in your efforts, was the decision that young women should be required to register in the in the system,” said Inhofe. When the commission said they did encounter opposition to requiring women to register for the draft, Inhofe added, “I am glad you did.”
When it was first reported that the draft registration would include women, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) publicly opposed the decision.
“No. Non-negotiable. Thanks,” Roy said in a social media post on July 19.
The Committee’s amended version of the FY2021 NDAA now heads to the Senate floor for consideration.