Talking Points

The problem with the military draft isn't sexism

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a case on the constitutionality of the male-only military draft. A statement from Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and Brett Kavanaugh observed it's possible Congress will now take up the issue, which the justices — like the petition the court denied — framed as "end[ing] gender-based [draft] registration."

This is a bizarre approach to the matter, and its strangeness is easier to see in the petition's greater length. Rather than eliminating the draft altogether, the petition's language suggested expanding it to include women should be our aim. Though it does speak of "further[ing] the goal of military readiness" and unfair imposition of "selective burdens on men," most of its attention went to women's equity.

The Pentagon has "unequivocally acknowledge[d] that requiring women and men alike to register would 'promote fairness and equity,'" the petition said, while a male-only draft "'sends a message' that women 'are not vital to the defense of the country.'" Congress "exclude[d] women from [draft] registration" because of "archaic stereotypes about men's and women's roles within and outside of the home," it argued, and current law "reinforces the notion that women are not full and equal citizens."

What? The draft is bad, but not because it says mean things about women. It's bad because it's a huge violation of human rights, and the sex class whose rights are being violated right now is men. The state should not be able to force you to kill or be killed. Conscription — to use the older term that better conveys the coercive nature of the practice — is not "a fundamental civic obligation," as this petition said. It's indefensible compulsion, regardless of what sex it affects.

Women are not harmed by exclusion from the draft, however archaic the congressional reasoning that produced the present arrangement. Further congressional action should be along the lines of the bipartisan bill to end Selective Service registration, full stop, not to "end gender-based registration." It is no victory for women to give the government power to drag us from our lives and ship us off to some needless fight. Getting in on multi-decade occupations or war crimes is not a good shortcut to "equity."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post misstated which justices issued the statement.