Draft registration of 4 million young men across the United States starts today (July 21) in the wake of a series of legal flip-flops over the weekend that leaves the broader issues undecided.
Opponents of mandatory conscription, however, are counting as a major success Friday's decision by a US Circuit Court of Appeals that the Selective Service Act is unconstitutional because it excludes women.
In a unanimous decision, the three-judge panel ruled that the act discriminates against men by excluding women from the draft. An additional injunction would have prevented the government from proceeding with its plans to register 19- and 20-year-old men during the next two weeks.
Even Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.'s stay of the injunction (allowing the scheduled draft registration to take place) pending the Supreme Court's hearing of the case in the fall, does not appear to dim their jubilation.
Rev. Barry Lynn, director of the national Committee Against Registration and the Draft (CARD), calls the appeals court decision "a great victory for the antidraft movement . . . . The confusion generated guarantees that registration will be a fiasco."
According to United Press International, Daniel Weinberg, an attorney representing draft -age young men as a class, says it is doubtful that Congress will attempt to change the draft law to include women in an election year, it being "a politically risky thing." He adds that the $8 million congressional allocation for previously proposed draft legislation is not enough to cover registration of women.
It is thought that the Pentagon would react unenthusiastically if, in order to register men for the draft, it became necessary to register women. Defense Secretary Harold Brown supports the registration of women but feels their conscription would depend on personnel needs at the time.
According to Monitor Pentagon correspondent Stephen Webbe, the issue of female registration for the draft is entangled in vexed question of women in combat. Louisiana Gov. David C. Treen, a former member of the House Armed Services Committee, has said that if women were drafted and assigned noncombat jobs, men could sue for unequal treatment. Inevitably, he feels, women would be assigned to combat units. He is opposed to the registration of women primarily because pregnancies among draftees, he believes, would impair the capability of the armed forces.
Well-qualified women entering the US armed services have done much to shore up the all-volunteer nature of the nation's forces. Any decision to register them for the draft will likely open a national debate on their precise role in wartime.
Justice Brennan said he stayed the injunction of the registration procedure because there was a "fair" chance that the supreme Court would reverse the lower court's ruling in the fall.
Although he did not hint at the direction he felt the court might take, Justice Brennan noted that if all-male registration is held unconstitutional after the fact, no irreparable harm has been done. But if registration is halted now, the government loses its ante.
Despite the appeals court decision, anti-draft groups still vow to continue this week's planned protests against draft registration.
"We want everybody to hear our message that we are firmly standing against registration and the draft in peace- time, forever," says CARD staff member Aida Bound.
Ms. Bound says 400 to 500 group have already gotten in touch with their national organization, with probably an equal number not bothering to do so.
Some groups, such as the American Friends Service Committee, has a long history of anti-war activity. Others, such as the Boston Alliance Against Registration and the Draft (BAARD) or Vietnam Veterans Against Registration and the Draft, are comparative newcomers.
The planned protests vary from group to group.
New York's Mobilization Against the Draft (MAD) plans a legal rally featuring such anti-war activists as the Revs. William Sloan Coffin and Barry Lynn (national director of CARD). Telegrams of support from Sen. EDward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Illinois Rep. John Anderson have also been received.
"Although we will have some speakers advocating resistance, our thrust will be on the order of giving people some knowledge of their options," says rally organizer Patrick Lacefield."
"Anti-draft organizers admit resisting registration presents hazards. But the organizers hope that the antiregistration forces will be so numerous that prosecution is virtually impossible.