July 16, 2019


Current status

The United States abandoned the draft in 1973 under President Richard Nixon, ended the Selective Service registration requirement in 1975 under President Gerald Ford, and then re-instated the Selective Service registration requirement in 1980 under President Jimmy Carter.

Today the Selective Service System remains as a contingency, should a military draft be re-introduced.

Under current law, all male U.S. citizens are required to register with Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Certain male aliens residing in the U.S., including those present illegally, are also required to register if they are between 18 and 26 years of age. "Willful" failure or refusal to present oneself for registration is against the law.

In 1980, young men who knew they were required to register who did not do so could face up to five years in jail or a fine up to $50,000 if convicted. The potential fine was later increased to $250,000. Despite these possible penalties, government records indicate that from 1980 through 1986 there were only 20 indictments, of which 19 were instigated in part by self-publicized and self-reported non-registration. (As one of the elements of the offense, the government must prove that a violation of the Military Selective Service Act was knowing and willful. This is almost impossible unless the prospective defendant has publicly stated that he knew he was required to register or report for induction, or unless he has been visited by the FBI, personally served with notice to register or report for induction, and given another chance to comply.) The last prosecution for nonregistration was in January 1986, after which many believed the government declined to continue prosecutions when it became apparent that the trials were themselves causing a decline in registration. By 1984, 13% of 18 year old men were not registering.

As an alternative method of encouraging registration, federal legislators and most state legislators passed laws requiring that to receive financial aid, federal grants and loans, and certain government benefits, a young man had to be registered with Selective Service. Organized efforts to aid those losing benefits include Fund for Education and Training (FEAT) and Student Aid Fund for Nonregistrants.

In the current registration system one cannot indicate that he is a conscientious objector (CO) to war when registering, but he can make such a claim when being drafted. Some men choose to write on the registration card I am a conscientious objector to war to document their conviction, even though the government will not have such a classification until there is a draft.

Today, the most likely form of draft is a one of health care workers. In 1987, Congress ordered the Selective Service System to put in place a system capable of drafting "persons qualified for practice or employment in a health care occupation", if such a special-skills draft should be ordered by Congress. In response, Selective Service published plans for the "Health Care Personnel Delivery System" (HCPDS) in 1989 and has had them ready ever since. The concept underwent a preliminary field exercise in Fiscal Year 1998, followed by a more extensive nationwide readiness exercise in Fiscal Year 1999. The HCPDS plans include women and men age 2054 in 57 job categories.


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