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Senate panel votes to make women register for draft

The Hill logo The Hill 7/22/2021 Rebecca Kheel
a group of people in uniform: Senate panel votes to make women register for draft © Getty Senate panel votes to make women register for draft

The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved language in its annual defense policy bill that would require women to register for the draft.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) approved by the committee behind closed doors Wednesday "amends the Military Selective Service Act to require the registration of women for Selective Service," according to a summary released Thursday.

The United States has not instituted a draft since the Vietnam War, and Pentagon officials have repeatedly said they intend to keep the force all-volunteer.

But men ages 18 through 25 still have to register with what's officially known as the Selective Service System or face consequences such as losing access to federal financial aid for college.

Congress has been debating whether to expand the registration requirement to women since all combat jobs were opened to female service members in 2016.

That year, both the House and Senate Armed Services committees included a requirement for women to register in their initial versions of the NDAA.

But the House's version of the bill dropped the language before the bill came to the floor. After conservatives pushed to exclude the language during negotiations between the House and Senate, the version of the NDAA that ultimately became law instead created a commission to review the draft registration requirements.

Last year, that commission recommended draft registration be expanded to include women, calling it a "necessary and fair step."

Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) earlier this year hinted the changes to the draft would make it into his committee's NDAA, saying he hoped to incorporate the commission's recommendations "in large part."

In June, the Supreme Court declined to take up a case challenging the constitutionality of the all-male draft, citing the expectation that Congress would soon act on 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."

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