Drafting Only Men for the Military Is Unconstitutional, Judge Rules

By Tyler Pager

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A female Army Ranger at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida in 2015. A federal judge ruled last week that because women can now serve in combat roles, it is unconstitutional for the United States to draft only men for the military.CreditCreditNick Tomecek/Northwest Florida Daily News, via Associated Press

A military draft that applies only to men is unconstitutional, a federal judge in Houston has ruled, saying that excluding women is no longer justified because they can now serve in combat roles just as men do.

Judge Gray H. Miller of Federal District Court in the Southern District of Texas took note of the Supreme Court’s 1981 ruling that the exclusion of women from the draft was “fully justified” because women then were not allowed to serve in combat. But the Pentagon abolished those restrictions in 2015, opening the way for women to serve in any military role for which they could qualify.

“While historical restrictions on women in the military may have justified past discrimination, men and women are now ‘similarly situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft,’” Judge Miller wrote in his ruling. “If there ever was a time to discuss ‘the place of women in the Armed Services,’ that time has passed.”

Though no one has been conscripted into the United States military in more than 40 years, the Military Selective Service Act requires all American men to register when they turn 18, in case a draft is reinstated; they remain eligible through age 25. Men who do not register can be fined, imprisoned and denied services like federal student loans.

The ruling came in a case brought by the National Coalition for Men, a men’s rights group, which argued that drafting men exclusively violates the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause.

Kate Germano, a retired Marine who served for 20 years, said on Sunday that the ruling was a natural progression from the lifting of the ban on women in combat roles.

“It would be an advantage to the country, and also for men, who have bore the preponderance of the burden since the draft was established,” Ms. Germano said of registering women. Noting that women make up slightly more than half the adult population, she said, “Why not leverage all of the talent pool?”

David R. Segal, the founding director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland, said he supports retaining draft registration, and that as a matter of equality, both men and women should be part of it.

“Since registration for selective service is one of the indicators of citizenship, I think we should at least say publicly that women and men have the same rights and responsibilities of citizenship,” said Mr. Segal, who has been studying military organization for more than 50 years.

The men’s rights group that brought the suit welcomed the ruling. “We think it’s about time since women are allowed in combat,” Marc E. Angelucci, a lawyer for the National Coalition for Men, said. “If we have draft registration, both sexes should have to register. There’s really no more excuse to require only men to register.”

The Pentagon declined to comment on Sunday.

Judge Miller’s ruling was declaratory, and it did not specify any action that the government must take to comply.

The ruling comes at a time when an advisory panel, the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, is studying the draft system, considering whether it should continue and whether women should be included.

“Personally, I don’t think we will remain with the status quo,” Joe Heck, the chairman of the commission, told USA Today in January. “But where we end up on the spectrum is yet to be determined.”

Follow Tyler Pager on Twitter: @tylerpager.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A13 of the New York edition with the headline: Judge Rules That a Military Draft Of Only Men Is Unconstitutional. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe