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Selective Service v. Minnesota Public Interest Research Group

Uncle Sam And Eligible Young Men

Under section 3 of the Military Selective Service Act, the president of the United States is empowered to require every male citizen and resident alien in the country between the ages of 18 and 26 to register for military service under the draft. On 2 July 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed Presidential Proclamation No. 4771, which required all young men to register within 30 days of their eighteenth birthday.

On 8 September 1982, Congress passed the Department of Defense Authorization Act of 1983, thereby adding section 12(f) to the Selective Service Act. Under 12(f), eligible young male students who failed to register would be ineligible for federal financial assistance under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965. Under section 12(f)(2), applicants for such assistance were required to file a statement with their college, university, or trade school showing that they had complied with the draft registration law. Clauses (3) and (4) of 12(f) further required the secretary of education, working with the director of Selective Service, to prescribe methods for verifying statements of compliance, and to issue regulations for implementation. In their final form, as issued on 11 April 1983, these regulations stipulated that no applicant could receive financial aid for higher education under Title IV unless he first filed a statement certifying that he had registered with the Selective Service or that, due to a specified reason such as a physical impairment which would prevent him from military service, he was exempt from the registration requirement. The provision did not require the applicant to state the date on which he had registered.

In November of 1982, an organization called the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court in Minnesota to enjoin, or stop, the federal government's operation of 12(f). The district court dismissed MPIRG for lack of standing, but did allow three anonymous students to stand in as plaintiffs in the case. The students, still operating under the MPIRG name and in conjunction with MPIRG counsel, held that they resided in Minnesota; that they required financial aid to complete their education; that they intended to apply for such aid; and that though they were eligible for the draft, they had failed to register with the Selective Service. Later they consolidated their suit with that of three other anonymous young men making essentially the same claim.

In March of 1983, the district court granted a preliminary injunction restraining the Selective Service from enforcing section 12(f). The court's reasoning was twofold. First, it held that 12(f) was a bill of attainder, and thus "clearly singles out an ascertainable group based on past conduct" and "legislatively determines the guilt of this ascertainable group." Second, the court held that 12(f) violated the appellees' privilege against compelled self-incrimination as guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment, because it compelled students requesting financial aid to confess the crime of not having registered for the draft.

On 16 June 1983, the district court issued a nationwide injunction against the enforcement of 12(f), but less than two weeks later, on 29 June, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed that order pending docketing and final disposition of the appeal. Filing amici curiae briefs urging affirmance of the lower court's ruling were individuals representing Swarthmore College and the University of Minnesota. The trustees of Boston University filed a brief urging reversal.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Selective Service v. Minnesota Public Interest Research Group - Significance, Uncle Sam And Eligible Young Men, Questions Of Punitive Intent And Compulsion, Marshall's Dissent: "a De Facto Classification Based On Wealth"