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A Judge Ruled that the Male-Only Draft Violates the Constitution. Here’s What that Means for Women

No one has been conscripted into the U.S. military since the end of the Vietnam War. But that didn’t stop a judge from ruling that the male-only draft is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Gray Miller ruled Friday that with the prohibition on women serving in combat lifted in 2015, their exclusion from the draft no longer makes sense. Yet the ruling will have limited effect.

The draft ended in 1973. In the years since, American men between the ages of 18 and 26 have nevertheless been required to register with the Selective Service System, which would allow the U.S. to act quickly should the draft be reinstated. Men who fail to register can be fined, imprisoned, or denied services such as federal student loans. Women face no such requirement.

Miller’s ruling stated that the male-only draft violates the equal protection provisions in the U.S. Constitution. It is largely a symbolic ruling though, as it was a declaratory judgment and not an injunction. The ruling did not include any order to change the requirements of the Selective Service, meaning that for the time being, women will still not have to register when they turn 18.

A more substantive ruling may come when the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service issues its report, a final version of which is expected in March 2020. The panel is in the process of considering a number of military staffing issues, including the draft system. The panel’s interim report released last month gave no indication as to how they are leaning.