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Rostker v. Goldberg

President Carter Reactivates The Selective Service System

In 1979 President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation to reactivate the registration requirement. President Carter felt that this step was a necessary response to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Although there were numerous proposals in Congress to have the registration requirements include both males and females, Congress refused to amend the Selective Service Act. Thus, beginning on 21 July 1980 all males were once again required to register with the Selective Service System. With this reinstation of the Selective Service Act, Goldberg's original lawsuit challenging the male-only registration requirement was reactivated. Just days before the registration requirement was to go into effect, the district court issued its decision that the male-only registration requirement was unconstitutional because it discriminated against men on the basis of their gender. The government, through Director of the Selective Service System Bernard Rostker, appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a 6-3 decision, the Court reversed the district court's decision and concluded that the male-only registration requirements of the Selective Service Act did not violate the constitution. The court first noted that Congress has broad powers to pass laws relating to military affairs, and that courts are not qualified to make military decisions. Thus, courts should not lightly disregard the judgment of Congress in this area. More importantly, the Court noted that the purpose of the registration requirement is to be able to draft combat troops in time of war. Because women were, at the time, excluded from combat positions, Congress did not act unreasonably in concluding that registering women for the draft would serve no purpose:

The exemption of women from registration is not only sufficiently but also closely related to Congress' purpose in authorizing registration . . . The fact that Congress and the Executive have decided that women should not serve in combat fully justifies Congress in not authorizing their registration, since the purpose of registration is to develop a pool of potential combat troops.

Justices Brennan, Marshall, and White disagreed with the Court's decision and dissented. Justice Marshall was particularly critical, accusing the Court of adopting a traditional view of the "proper role" of women and of "categorically exclud[ing] women from a fundamental civic obligation."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Rostker v. Goldberg - Significance, President Carter Reactivates The Selective Service System, Validity Of Rostker Questioned, Women And The Selective Service Exemption