By Erin Delmore
“We have an all-volunteer military. And in order to have in the future what we have today, which is the finest fighting force the world has ever known, I need to be able to reach into the entirety of the American population,” said U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in December.
Carter made history when he opened all jobs in the military, including combat roles, to women. And while the U.S. military is an all-volunteer force, we do maintain the draft for nearly all American men between the ages of 18 and 26. In most cases, men have to register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday. The Supreme Court ruled against conscripting women in 1981.
The logic goes like this: women haven’t been eligible to register for the draft, because a country invokes the draft during times of war, meaning, it needs people to serve in combat, and those roles have historically been closed off to women. But now that that’s changed, people are saying, why not this, too?
“Part of me believes that asking women to register as we ask men to register would maybe possibly open up more recruits as women begin to think about, well, the military is an option for me,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill Tuesday.
“Senator, my personal view based on this lifting of restriction for assignment team at MOS that every American that is physically qualified should sign up for the draft,” said Gen. Robert Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Neller is one of the most powerful voices in the movement. Meet two of the most surprising: aspiring actress Monica Patricia Pinto from Union County, and pre-veterinary student Liz Kyle-LaBell from Morris County. The two are plaintiffs in what their lawyer says is the only female-led class action suit to draft women in the country. Neither of these women wants to enlist in the military.
“I’m doing it because of gender equality. I feel like if men are required to register with the draft, then women should be, too,” Kyle-LaBell said.
Meet the plaintiffs’ attorney, Roy Den Hollander. In 2007, Hollander argued the “Ladies Night” case, claiming drink specials and free admission to bars in the Big Apple violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause. His suit was unsuccessful.
“So I brought that case and I brought a couple other cases based upon that premise: treating guys fairly. But I didn’t get anyplace. So I started thinking, when this draft case came up, initially I was thinking, well, I’ll find a guy, bring the case with a guy, but then I started thinking, it’d be easier as far as standing goes, which is a legal rule, if I brought it with a female. And what am I asking, or what are we asking? These ladies are asking that they be treated fairly. That they not be barred from something just because an accident of nature made them female,” Hollander said.
Whether you see it as women’s rights or men’s rights, Hollander sees a long road ahead. The case is now before Judge Ester Salas in New Jersey District Court. Hollander says the losing party might hopscotch to the third circuit court of appeals and the loser of that case might head for the Supreme Court.