Returning to Florida always involves the ritual of picking up accumulated mail and discontinuing the postal forwarding instruction.
Waiting in line, I noticed a poster on the counter just to the left of Russell, the Florida State football fanatic who always brightens my visit to his shop.
I did a double take. The poster said “MEN.” In big, bold, red letters.
What is this, right there in the United States Post Office? MEN? What could the federal government, that hotbed of gender equality, possibly be saying to men, that it doesn’t also want to say to women?
For a moment, overcome by disbelief, I pondered the possibility that Russell had somehow become an avant garde perpetrator of free enterprise. Perhaps he was renting counter space to a men’s hair care manufacturer. Or maybe Viagra. That’s it. The old rascal is selling Viagra.
But on closer inspection, I discovered that the poster was part of a display which held a supply of brochures, explaining, of all things, the selective service system.
Well, I’ll be darned. That thing must have been there at least since the Korean War. Why had I never noticed it before?
So I took one.
It was crisp and new. Didn’t mention the Korean War. It just said that, in case of war, a serious war, acknowledged by the Congress and the President, it might be necessary to conscript people into the armed forces.
So, just to be safe, the Congress, in its wisdom, passed a law requiring all males, whether citizens or not, between the ages of 18 and 25, to register with Uncle Sam. Within 30 days of turning 18. And it’s a felony if you don’t.
Just to make the cheese a little more binding, the law adds disqualification for various educational benefits for those who don’t sign up. It affects other federal entitlement goodies as well.
When I got home, I went to the source of all wisdom and knowledge, Google, and checked it out.
Indeed the selective service law was reinstated in 1980 during the term of President Jimmy Carter. True to his impeccable liberal credentials, President Jimmy urged the Congress to include women in the law.
So, of course, along came one Robert Goldberg who filed suit against Bernard Rostker, the director of the federal selective service, claiming that the law violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the law, by reason of the fact that it exempted women.
The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified on July 9, 1868. It contains not a word about gender equality. The people who ratified it had just fought a civil war in which the armies of both sides were staffed by males. The idea of females marching into combat was totally foreign to them.
The Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote. It said nothing about military service.
Still, the United States Supreme Court could only muster a 6-3 majority to uphold the constitutionality of the selective service law.
Chief Justice Rehnquist, writing for the majority, offered the silly reason that the law was designed for emergencies when combat soldiers were needed, and since women were not allowed combat duty, it made sense to exempt them from the draft.
That was in 1981. Today, women are regularly assigned to combat duties. Does that mean the Constitution has changed? If another case gets to the high court, will they announce that there is no longer a compelling reason to exempt women?
Why on earth, especially in light of the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment to achieve ratification, wouldn’t it have been enough for Rehnquist just to say that the Constitution doesn't forbid a law drafting men or requiring them to register for possible conscription?
Be that as it may, Goldberg lost, and the ‘selective’ selective service law is still on the books and still enforceable.
At least until somebody else challenges it.
A lot of folks these days agree with Jimmy Carter.
We have ladies in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. And there’s lots of literature out on the Internet demanding that women be subject to conscription.
Maybe it will come to pass someday. If it does, I just hope it comes about democratically through legislation by elected representatives of the people and not by the writ of Supreme Court Justices who have anointed themselves as the oracles of ‘emerging community standards.’ Whatever the hell that is supposed to mean.
Anyway, the battle of the sexes is turning into a free for all.
With girls who want to act like boys and boys who want to act like girls, maybe the only meaningful requirement for military service should be the willingness to die for your country. Or as General Patton so eloquently put it, to make the other son of a bitch die for his country.
One wonders if Renee Richards could have been convicted of a felony for failure to register.
It’s an old dodge. Achilles got out of the Trojan War by dressing as a girl.