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Military challenge

Mass. lawsuit questions Selective Service System

By Thanassis Cambanis, Globe Staff, 1/10/2003

s the United States prepares for a possible war in Iraq and one congressman crusades to bring back the military draft, a group of Massachusetts teenagers and one 20-year-old added their own twist to the national debate yesterday, challenging the US Selective Service System because it requires only men to register.

A woman and four men filed suit in US District Court in Boston against the Selective Service System, which maintains a database of all men ages 18 to 26 in case the federal government reinstates a military draft.

''If people want women's rights, they should want it wholeheartedly, including for women to have to fight in wars,'' said plaintiff Nicole Foley, 17, of Ipswich. ''We should take the good with the bad.''

-- Anonymous, January 10, 2003



She and her stepbrother, Samuel Schwartz, hatched the idea of suing the government last spring, when Schwartz turned 18 and had to register. The siblings turned to civil liberties lawyer Harvey Schwartz, who is Schwartz's father and Foley's stepfather. He said he agreed to prepare a complaint if the teenagers did all the legal research.

The lawsuit reprises a similar challenge rejected by the US Supreme Court in 1981. That year, in Rostker v. Goldberg, the court ruled that Congress had the right to draft a statute excluding women from a draft registry because women at the time played such a minor role in the military and already were barred from combat positions.

That is no longer the case. In 2002, according to the most recent Pentagon statistics, there were 212,266 female active-duty military personnel, or 15 percent of the total. Women serve in nearly every type of unit, including combat groups.

''We're saying times have changed,'' Schwartz said. ''The role of women in the military has completely changed.''

Add to that the possibility of war in Iraq, and the time is ripe for a gender-neutral Selective Service System, Schwartz says.

The Selective Service Administration stands ready to register women if ordered to do so, spokeswoman Alyce T. Burton said. ''If the law were to change, given additional funding, we could register women,'' she said. ''It's up to Congress to change the law.''

As it happens, Congress might be debating military conscription this year.

-- Anonymous, January 10, 2003


US Representative Charles B. Rangel, a New York Democrat, introduced legislation Tuesday that would require all men and women between the ages of 18 and 26 to spend two years in the military, or in civilian national service.

''Those who make the decisions and those who support the United States going to war would feel more readily the pain that's involved, the sacrifice that's involved, if they thought that the fighting force would include the affluent and those who have historically avoided this great responsibility,'' Rangel said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said there is ''not a chance'' of reinstating the draft, which was suspended in 1973 during the closing days of the Vietnam War. The Selective Service System was placed on ''deep standby'' in 1975, but President Jimmy Carter reactivated the registration process for men in 1980 in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Ever since, men have been required by law to register within a month of their 18th birthday, and technically must notify the Selective Service every time they change their addresses.

''A lot of people aren't even aware that there's still a Selective Service System,'' said plaintiff Samuel Schwartz, 18.

According to the Selective Service, about 86 percent of men nationwide complied with the registration requirement in 2001.

Schwartz and his stepsister began arguing about the Selective Service System over dinner one night at their Ipswich home shortly before he turned 18 last May.

''I had just registered for the draft so I could get financial aid for college, and I realized that my sister gets the same perks without having to register,'' Schwartz said. ''I think it's unfair that I have this burden and obligation to fight if there's a war and she doesn't.''

-- Anonymous, January 10, 2003


Men who do not register with the Selective Service are barred from federal and state jobs, as well as educational loans. Although prosecutions are rare, the federal government can bring charges against men who fail to register and seek fines up to $250,000.

Three of Schwartz's friends joined him as plaintiffs: Douglas Scandrett, 19, and Joseph D. Monty Jr., 20, both of Boxford, and Evan Simons, 18, of Danvers.

The lawsuit asks senior US District Judge Edward F. Harrington to declare the existing Selective Service System unconstitutional, arguing it violates Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of equal protection under the law. The complaint also names the Massachusetts attorney general, who is responsible for enforcing registration.

-- Anonymous, January 10, 2003

I know this won't make me universally popular but I do believe a draft is more beneficial than not. If it's ever reinstated, the only possible outs should be real physical problems, real support and assistance for a disabled parent or child, something like that. There should be no deferment just because you're in college. And, yrs, it should apply to women too. It certainly hasn't done Israel any harm.

-- Anonymous, January 10, 2003

I have 2 gransons, only 8 and 5, but yes, I agree with Git.. it is a shame, and many are no longer patriotic.. I guess I am and will be till I die, Right or wrong, as messy and EVIL as this Country sometimes gets... it is still MY country, my dad fought, my ex hubby fought, my friends fathers fought. I honor their memory in that I will do my share as I can....and I do think the Draft is a good thing.

Only thing is.. I wish it never had to be used again!

-- Anonymous, January 10, 2003

I hear what yer saying, Git, but do you really want someone trained to operate a rifle who can't follow simple instructions on how to mail in the registration card for the selective service?

I see a lot of them, and the kids are soooo stupid, they can't fill out the cards correctly, or even mail them correctly. Idiots.

-- Anonymous, January 10, 2003

Yebbut it was them idiots that beat the crap out of the British at the Battle of New Orleans--them Kentucky and Tennessee farm boys could shoot damn straight even though they could only sign with an X. Right now we've got thoroughly untrained idiots firing guns and they're hitting little kids and other innocent bystanders. This way, when they get out maybe they'll only hit the rival drug dealers and not the innocents.

-- Anonymous, January 10, 2003

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