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Selective Service System
Selective Service System

The Selective Service System (SSS) is an independent agency of the United States government that maintains information on those potentially subject to military conscription (i.e. the draft). All male U.S. citizens and male immigrant non-citizens, who are between the ages of 18 and 25 are required by law to have registered within 30 days of their 18th birthdays,[2][3] and must notify Selective Service within ten days of any changes to any of the information they provided on their registration cards, such as a change of address.[4] In practice, the selective service system has minimal practical effect today since the U.S. military operates on a volunteer basis. Nevertheless, it is seen as a contingency mechanism for the possibility that conscription someday becomes necessary again.

A 2010 Government Accountability Office report estimated the registration rate at 92%, with the names and addresses of over 16.2 million men on file.[1][5] However, the only audit of the addresses of registrants on file with the Selective Service System, in 1982, found that 20–40% of the addresses on file with the Selective Service System for registrants in the age groups that would be drafted first were already outdated, and up to 75% for those registrants in their last year of potential eligibility to be drafted would be invalid.[6]

Registration with Selective Service is also required for various federal programs and benefits, including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), student loans and Pell Grants, job training, federal employment, and naturalization.[7]

The Selective Service System provides the names of all registrants to the Joint Advertising Marketing Research & Studies (JAMRS) program for inclusion in the JAMRS Consolidated Recruitment Database. The names are distributed to the Services for recruiting purposes on a quarterly basis.[8]

Regulations are codified at Title 32 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter XVI.[9]


Following the U.S. declaration of war against Germany on April 6, the Selective Service Act of 1917 (40 Stat. 76) was passed by the 65th United States Congress on May 18, 1917, creating the Selective Service System.[10] President Woodrow Wilson signed the Act into law after the U.S. Army failed to meet its target of expanding to 1 million men after six weeks.[11] The Act gave the President the power to conscript men for military service. All men aged 21 to 30 were required to register for military service for a service period of 12 months. As of mid-November 1917, all registrants were placed in one of five new classifications. Men in Class I were the first to be drafted, and men in lower classifications were deferred. Dependency deferments for registrants who were fathers or husbands were especially widespread.[12] The age limit was later raised in August 1918 to a maximum age of 45. The military draft was discontinued in 1920.

The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 was passed by Congress on September 16, 1940, establishing the first peacetime conscription in United States history.[14] It required all men between the ages of 18 to 64 to register with Selective Service. It originally conscripted all men aged 21 to 35 for a service period of 12 months. In 1941 the military service period was extended to 18 months; later that year the age bracket was increased to include men aged 18 to 37. Following the sneak Japanese air raid attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941, and the subsequent declarations of war by the United States against the Empire of Japan and then a few days later against Nazi Germany, the service period was subsequently extended in early 1942 to last for the duration of the war plus a six-month service in the Organized Reserves.

In his 1945 State of the Union address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt requested that the draft be expanded to include female nurses (male nurses were not allowed), to overcome a shortage that was endangering military medical care. This began a debate over the drafting of all women, which was defeated in the House of Representatives. A bill to draft nurses was passed by the House, but died without a vote in the Senate. The publicity caused more nurses to volunteer, agencies streamlined recruiting, and enemy forces in Europe were defeated.[15]

The Selective Service System created by the 1940 Act was terminated by the Act of March 31, 1947.[16][17]

The Selective Service Act of 1948, enacted in June of that year, created a new and separate system, the basis for the modern system.[17] All men 18 years and older had to register with Selective Service. All men between the ages of 19 to 26 were eligible to be drafted for a service requirement of 21 months. This was followed by a commitment for either 12 consecutive months of active service or 36 consecutive months of service in the reserves, with a statutory term of military service set at a minimum of five years total. Conscripts could volunteer for military service in the Regular United States Army for a term of four years or the Organized Reserves for a term of six years. Due to deep postwar budget cuts, only 100,000 conscripts were chosen in 1948. In 1950, the number of conscripts was greatly increased to meet the demands of the Korean War (1950–1953).

The outbreak of the Korean War fostered the creation of the Universal Military Training and Service Act of 1951 (Selective Service Act of 1948). This lowered the draft age from 19 to ​18 1⁄2, increased active-duty service time from 21 to 24 months, and set the statutory term of military service at a minimum of eight years. Students attending a college or training program full-time could request an exemption, which was extended as long as they were students. A Universal Military Training clause was inserted that would have made all men obligated to perform 12 months of military service and training if the Act was amended by later legislation. Despite successive attempts over the next several years, however, such legislation was never passed.

Thirty fifth President John F. Kennedy set up Executive Order 11119 (signed on September 10, 1963), granting an exemption from conscription for married men between the ages of 19 and 26. His Vice President and successor as 36th President Lyndon B. Johnson later rescinded the exemption for married men without children by Executive Order 11241 (signed on August 26, 1965 and going into effect on midnight of that date). However, married men with children or other dependents and men married before the Executive Order went into effect were still exempt. Fortieth President Ronald Reagan revoked both of them with Executive Order 12553 (signed on February 25, 1986).

The Military Selective Service Act of 1967 (Selective Service Act of 1948) expanded the ages of conscription to the ages of 18 to 55. It still granted student deferments, but ended them upon either the student's completion of a four-year degree or his 24th birthday, whichever came first.

On November 26, 1969, 37th President Richard Nixon signed an amendment to the Military Selective Service Act of 1967 (Selective Service Act of 1948) that established conscription based on random selection (lottery).[18] The first draft lottery was held on December 1, 1969; it determined the order of call for induction during calendar year 1970, for registrants born between January 1, 1944, and December 31, 1950. The highest lottery number called for possible induction was 195.[19] The second lottery, on July 1, 1970, pertained to men born in 1951. The highest lottery number called for possible induction was 125.[20] The third was on August 5, 1971, pertaining to men born in 1952; the highest lottery number called was 95.[21]

In 1971, the Military Selective Service Act (Selective Service Act of 1948) was further amended to make registration compulsory; all men had to register within a period 30 days before and 29 days after their 18th birthday. Registrants were classified 1-A (eligible for military service), 1-AO (Conscientious Objector available for non-combatant military service), and 1-O (Conscientious Objector available for alternate community service). Student deferments were ended, except for divinity students, who received a 2-D Selective Service classification. Men who were not classifiable as eligible for service due to a disqualification were classified 1-N. Men who are incapable of serving for medical or psychological unfitness are classified 4-F. Draft classifications of 1-A were changed to 1-H (registrant not currently subject to processing for induction) for men not selected for service after the calendar year they were eligible for the draft. (Note: these – and other – draft classifications were in place long before 1971.) Also, draft board membership requirements were reformed: minimum age of board members was dropped from 30 to 18, members over 65 or who had served on the board for 20 or more years had to retire, and membership had to proportionally reflect the ethnic and cultural makeup of the local community.

The seventh and final lottery drawing was held on March 12, 1975, pertaining to men born in 1956, who would have been called to report for induction in 1976.[22] But no new draft orders were issued after 1972.[23] On January 27, 1973, Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird announced the creation of an all-volunteer armed forces, negating the need for the military draft.[24]

On March 29, 1975, 38th President Gerald R. Ford, whose own son, Steven Ford, had earlier failed to register for the draft as required,[25] signed Proclamation 4360 (Terminating Registration Procedures Under Military Selective Service Act), eliminating the registration requirement for all 18- to 25-year-old male citizens.[26]

On July 2, 1980, 39th President Jimmy Carter signed Proclamation 4771 (Registration Under the Military Selective Service Act) in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the previous year of 1979,[27] retroactively re-establishing the Selective Service registration requirement for all 18- to 26-year-old male citizens born on or after January 1, 1960.[28] As a result, only men born between March 29, 1957, and December 31, 1959, were completely exempt from Selective Service registration.[29]

The first registrations after Proclamation 4771 took place at various post offices across the nation on July 21, 1980, for men born in calendar year 1960. Pursuant to the Presidential proclamation, all those men born in 1960 were required to register that week. Men born in 1961 were required to register the following week. Men born in 1962 were required to register during the week beginning January 5, 1981. Men born in 1963 and after were required to register within 30 days after their 18th birthday.[28]

A bill to abolish the Selective Service System was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on February 10, 2016.[30] H.R. 4523 would (a) end draft registration and eliminate the authority of the President to order anyone to register for the draft, (b) abolish the Selective Service System, and (c) effectively repeal the "Solomon Amendments" making registration for the draft a condition of Federal student aid, jobs, and job training. The bill would leave in place, however, laws in some states making registration for the draft a condition of some state benefits.[31] On June 9, 2016, a similar bill was introduced in the United States Senate, called the "Muhammad Ali Voluntary Service Act".[32]

On April 27, 2016, the House Armed Services Committee voted to add an amendment[33] to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017[34] to extend the authority for draft registration to women. On May 12, 2016, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to add a similar provision to its version of the bill.[35] If the bill including this provision had been enacted into law, it would have authorized (but not require) the President to order young women as well as young men to register with the Selective Service System.[36]

The House-Senate conference committee for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 removed the provision of the House version of the bill that would have authorized the President to order women as well as men to register with the Selective Service System, but added a new section to create a "National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service" (NCMNPS). This provision was enacted into law on 23 December 2016 as Subtitle F of Public Law 114-328.[37] The Commission is to study and make recommendations by October 2020 on the draft, draft registration, registration of women, and "the feasibility and advisability of modifying the military selective service process in order to obtain for military, national, and public service individuals with skills (such as medical, dental, and nursing skills, language skills, cyber skills, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills) for which the Nation has a critical need, without regard to age or sex." During 2018, the Commission held both public and closed-door meetings with members of the public and invited experts and other witnesses.[38]

In February 2019, a challenge to the Military Selective Service Act, which provides for the male-only draft, by the National Coalition for Men, was deemed unconstitutional by Judge Gray H. Miller in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Miller's opinion was based on the Supreme Court's past argument in Rostker v. Goldberg (1981) which had found the male-only draft constitutional because the military then did not allow women to serve. As the Department of Defense has since lifted most restrictions on women in the military, Miller ruled that the justifications no longer apply, and thus the act requiring only men to register would now be considered unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause.[39]

Who must register

Under current law, all male US citizens between 18–25 (inclusive) years of age are required to register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. In addition, certain categories of non-US citizen men between 18–25 living in the United States must register, particularly permanent residents, refugees, asylum seekers, and illegal immigrants.[2] Foreign men lawfully present in the United States who are non-immigrants, such as international students, visitors, and diplomats, are not required to register, so long as they remain in that status.[2] If an alien's non-immigrant status lapses while he is in the United States, he will be required to register.[40] Failure to register as required is grounds for denying a petition for US citizenship. Currently, citizens who are as young as 17 years and 3 months old can pre-register so when they turn 18 their information will automatically be added into the system.

In the current registration system, a man 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.[41] A number of private organizations have programs for conscientious objectors to file a written record stating their beliefs.[42][43][44][45][46]

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" in case such a special-skills draft should be ordered by Congress. In response, the 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.[47] The HCPDS plans include women and men age 20–54 in 57 job categories.[48]

Until their 26th birthday, registered men must notify Selective Service within 10 days of any changes to information regarding their status, such as name, current mailing address, permanent residence address, and "all information concerning his status ... which the classifying authority mails him a request therefor."[4][49]

In February 2019, the male-only military draft registry was ruled to be unconstitutional in National Coalition for Men v. Selective Service System.[50] Following the ruling, the Selective Service's Legislative Liaison Jacob Daniels told reporters: "Things continue here at Selective Service as they have in the past, which is men between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register with Selective Service. And at this time, until we receive guidance from either the court or from Congress, women are not required to register for Selective Service."[51]

The Selective Service System considers the term "male" in the federal law to refer to the gender assigned at birth, so trans women are required to register and trans men are not.[52] Failure to register can cause problems such as denial of Pell Grants, even when registration would not have been allowed.[53] As of 2019, the policy toward allowing service of transgender personnel in the United States military is its own subject of legal dispute. If upheld, under the ban ordered by President Donald Trump, trans women who were required to register with the Selective Service System would not be allowed to serve in the military if drafted or volunteering.

Failure to register

In 1980, men who knew they were required to register and did not do so could face up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $50,000 or both 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 twenty indictments of which nineteen were instigated in part by self-publicized and self-reported non-registration.[54]

A principal element for conviction under the Act is proving a violation of the Act was intentional, i.e. knowing and willful. In the opinion of legal experts, this is almost impossible to prove unless there is evidence of a prospective defendant knowing about his obligation to register and intentionally choosing not to do so. Or, for example, when there is evidence the government at any time provided notice to the prospective defendant to register or report for induction, he was given an opportunity to comply, and the prospective defendant chose not to do so.

The last prosecution for non-registration was in January 1986. In interviews published in U.S. News & World Report in May 2016, current and former Selective Service System officials said that in 1988, the Department of Justice and Selective Service agreed to suspend any further prosecutions of non-registrants.[55] No law since 1980 has required anyone to possess, carry, or show a draft card, and routine checks requiring identification virtually never include a request for a draft card.

As an alternative method of encouraging or coercing registration, laws were passed requiring that in order to receive financial aid, federal grants and loans, certain government benefits, eligibility for most federal employment, and (if the person is an immigrant) eligibility for citizenship, a young man had to be registered (or had to have been registered, if they are over 26 but were required to register between 18 and 26) with the Selective Service. Those who were required to register, but failed to do so before they turned 26, are no longer allowed to register, and thus may be permanently barred from federal jobs and other benefits, unless they can show to the Selective Service that their failure was not knowing and willful.[7] There is a procedure to provide an "information letter" to the Selective Service for those in these situations, for example recent citizens who entered the US after their 26th birthday.[56]

Most states, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and Virgin Islands, have passed laws requiring registration for men 18–25 to be eligible for programs that vary on a per-jurisdiction basis but typically include driver's licenses, state-funded higher education benefits, and state government jobs.[57] Alaska also requires registration to receive an Alaska Permanent Fund dividend.[57] Eight states (California, Connecticut, Indiana, Nebraska, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming) have no such requirements, though Indiana does give men 18–25 the option of registering with Selective Service when obtaining a driver's license or an identification card.[57] The Department of Motor Vehicles of 27 states and 2 territories automatically register young men 18–25 with the Selective Service whenever they apply for driver licenses, learner permits, or non-driver identification cards.[58][57]

There are some third-party organized efforts to compensate financial aid for those students losing benefits, including the Fund for Education and Training (FEAT) and Student Aid Fund for Non-registrants.[59][60]

Alien or dual-national registrant status

Some registrants are not U.S. citizens, or have dual nationality of the U.S. and another country; they fall instead into one of the following categories:

  • Alien or Dual National (class 4-C): An alien is a person who is not a citizen of the United States. A dual national is a person who is a citizen of the United States and another country. They are defined in four classes. Registrants who have lived in the United States for less than a year are exempt from military training and service, but become eligible after a year of cumulative residence (counting disjoint time periods). A registrant who left the United States before his Order to Report for Induction was issued and whose order has not been canceled. He may be classified in Class 4-C only for the period he resides outside of the United States. Upon his return to the United States, he must report the date of return and his current address to the Selective Service Area Office. A registrant who registered at a time required by Selective Service law and thereafter acquired status within one of its groups of persons exempt from registration. He will be eligible for this class only during the period of his exempt status. To support this claim, the registrant must submit documentation from the diplomatic agency of the country of which he is a subject verifying his exempt status. A registrant, lawfully admitted for permanent residence, as defined in Paragraph (2) of Section 101(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, as amended (66 Stat. 163, 8 U.S.C. 1101) who, by reason of their occupational status, is subject to adjustment to non-immigrant status under paragraph (15)(A), (15)(E), or (15)(G) or section 101(a). In this case, the person must also have executed a waiver of all rights, privileges, exemptions, and immunities which would otherwise accrue to him as a result of his occupational status.
  • Dual national: The person is a citizen of both the United States and another country at the same time. The country must be one that allows its citizens dual citizenship and the registrant must be able to obtain and produce the proper papers to affirm this status.[61]
  • Treaty alien: Due to a treaty or international arrangement with the alien's country of origin, the registrant can choose to be ineligible for military training and service in the armed forces of the United States. However, once this exemption is taken, he can never apply for U.S. citizenship and may become inadmissible to reenter the U.S. after leaving[62] unless he already served in the Armed Forces of a foreign country of which the alien was a national.[63] Nevertheless, an alien who establishes clear and convincing evidence of certain factors may still override this kind of bar to naturalization.

Legal issues

The Selective Service System is authorized by the Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution which says Congress "shall have Power To ... provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union;" The Selective Service Act is the law which established the Selective Service System under these provisions.

The act has been challenged in light of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which prohibits "involuntary servitude".[64] These challenges, however, have not been supported by the courts; as the Supreme Court stated in Butler v. Perry (1916):

During the First World War, the Supreme Court ruled in Arver v. United States (1918), also known as the Selective Draft Law Cases, that the draft did not violate the Constitution.[66]

Later, during the Vietnam War, a federal appellate court also concluded that the draft was constitutional in Holmes v. United States (1968).[67]

Since the reinstatement of draft registration in 1980, the Supreme Court has heard and decided four cases related to the Military Selective Service Act: Rostker v. Goldberg, 453 U.S. 57 (1981), upholding the constitutionality of requiring men but not women to register for the draft; Selective Service v. Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), 468 U.S. 841 (1984), upholding the constitutionality of the "Solomon Amendment", which requires applicants for Federal student aid to certify that they have complied with draft registration, either by having registered or by not being required to register; Wayte v. United States, 470 U.S. 598 (1985), upholding the policies and procedures which the Supreme Court thought the government had used to select the "most vocal" non-registrants for prosecution, after the government refused to comply with discovery orders by the trial court to produce documents and witnesses related to the selection of non-registrants for prosecution; and Elgin v. Department of Treasury, 567 U.S. 1 (2012), regarding procedures for judicial review of denial of federal employment for non-registrants.[68]

The case National Coalition for Men v. Selective Service System resulted in the male-only draft being declared unconstitutional by a district court.

Structure and operation

The Selective Service System is an independent federal agency within the Executive Branch of the federal government of the United States. The Director of the Selective Service System reports directly to the President of the United States.[69]

During peacetime, the agency comprises a National Headquarters, three Regional Headquarters, and a Data Management Center. Even during peacetime, the agency is also aided by 11,000 volunteers serving on local boards and district appeal boards.[70] During a mobilization that required activation of the draft, the agency would greatly expand by activating an additional 56 State Headquarters, 400+ Area Offices, and 40+ Alternative Service Offices.[71]

The agency's budget for the 2015–2016 fiscal year was about $23 million. In early 2016, the agency said that if women were required to register, its budget would need to be increased by about $9 million in the first year, and slightly less in subsequent years.[72] This does not include any budget or expenses for enforcing or attempting to enforce the Military Selective Service Act. Costs of investigating, prosecuting, and imprisoning violators would be included in the budget of the Department of Justice.

Mobilization (draft) procedures

The description below is for a general draft under the current Selective Service regulations. Any or all of these procedures could be changed by Congress as part of the same legislation that would authorize inductions, or through separate legislation, so there is no guarantee that this is how any draft would actually work. Different procedures would be followed for a special-skills draft, such as activation of the Health Care Personnel Delivery System (HCPDS).

Lottery procedures

If the agency were to mobilize and conduct a draft, a lottery would be held in full view of the public. First, all days of the year are placed into a capsule at random. Second, the numbers 1–365 (1–366 for lotteries held with respect to a leap year) are placed into a second capsule. These two capsules are certified for procedure, sealed in a drum, and stored.

In the event of a draft, the drums are taken out of storage and inspected to make sure they have not been tampered with. The lottery then takes place, and each date is paired with a number at random. For example, if January 19 is picked from the "date" capsule and the number 59 picked from the "number" capsule, all men of age 20 born on January 19 will be the 59th group to receive induction notices. This process continues until all dates are matched with a number.

Should all dates be used, the Selective Service will first conscript men at the age of 20, then 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 19, and 18. Once all dates are paired, the dates will be sent to Selective Service System's Data Management Center.[74]


If a draft were authorized by Congress, without any other changes being made in the law, local boards would classify registrants to determine whether they were exempt from military service. According to the Code of Federal Regulations Title 32, Chapter XVI, Sec. 1630.2,[77] men would be sorted into the following categories:


See also

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