A recent federal court ruling found it unconstitutional for the Selective Service to require only men to register for the draft. An injunction did not accompany the ruling, meaning that there will be not be any immediate changes to the Selective Service rules. A Congressional-appointed commission currently studying the issue is expected to present their findings next year (check out their interim report here).
That commission’s final report has potential to make it to the center of the national conversation, especially if the 2020 presidential contenders seize the issue. This should concern liberty-minded individuals not only because the Selective Service is a coercive institution, but also because the current political climate would suggest that any changes made would be towards its expansion rather than its reduction or elimination.
It is not a stretch to imagine a bipartisan consensus emerging to expand the draft registration to include women. Congressional Republicans will be eager to push back on the “GOP war-on-women” narrative that has become an election year staple. President Trump would most likely endorse expansion as both patriotic support for the armed forces and yet another reason to continually increase defense spending.
Leading Democrats, who have largely embraced a Kristolian penchant for all things military in the Trump era, could also use the issue to political advantage. So much of the energy on the American left is in intersectional feminism and eliminating gender-based registration restrictions would certainly check that box. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and 2020 presidential nominee, say, Sen. Kamala Harris could wax eloquently about breaking glass ceilings in traditionally male-dominated institutions, “being on the right side of history”, etc.
This scenario is quite plausible absent a broad resistance movement from voters. And considering there has not been an active military draft since 1973 the majority of the electorate hardly sees the Selective Service as anything more than benign. The country is long removed from hundreds and thousands of young people gathering in the streets to burn their draft cards and protest military intervention in foreign countries.
So what is to fear from this eventuality, besides sickly sweet purple prose from the halls of Congress and a round of virtue-signaling cable TV news segments about the importance of gender equality and American military supremacy? The answer to that question lies in the enthusiasm behind two recent proposals for ambitious government projects: the Green New Deal and the southern border wall.
Regardless of the merits of either of these proposals the level of support from the left and right, respectively, should be very worrying to anyone interested in limited government. Gone are the days of President Bill Clinton declaring in the 1996 State of the Union address that “the era of big government is over.” The Reagan Revolution rhetoric of “the nine most terrifying words are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help,’” which formed the philosophical backbone of the Tea Party movement, has been replaced with “MAGA” by any spending necessary.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal was short on specifics and had no realistic chance at passing a floor vote in either chamber of Congress. However, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein can attest, any attempt at even the most superficial examination of the program’s shortcomings is tantamount to heresy among the soon-to-be-leaders of the party.
Recent Republican administrations have exploded annual deficits and put boots on the ground in more countries than even Sen. Lindsey Graham can keep track of. President Trump’s obvious lie about getting Mexico to fund the border wall was rarely questioned in a serious manner on the right, let alone the need for a 2,000 mile-long barrier, for that would be political suicide among the party of so-called limited government fiscal conservatives.
Even considering the electorate’s current comfort with expansive government projects, is it more likely than not that the only major change will be to drop the gender restrictions? Probably, but the bad news for libertarians is that scenario is the bright side of potential outcomes.
The downside? We are on the verge of a new Progressive Era and there is a significant chance that leaders in the federal government begin to realize the potential of the Selective Service as a vessel for their policy ambitions. A Sanders or Booker administration could push for a required term of national service as a bipartisan way of passing a national jobs program. A second Trump term could see a revival of the Works Progress Administration to address the crumbling infrastructure he so often laments. Worst of all, current situations in the Middle East, Kashmir, or the South China Sea could explode into great power conflicts of the world war variety and the draft is fully reinstated.
That last event would certainly create popular backlash to the Selective Service, such as in the Vietnam Era, but by then it would be too little too late. Millions of young Americans, of all genders this time, would be forced to take up arms, to kill and to die (or refusing to do so, to be caged). That possibility is always just one vote away as long as the bureaucratic afterthought that is the Selective Service continues to exist.
Sean McAvoy is a legal assistant in Indiana and became a libertarian after interning in the US House of Representatives. His main political interests include occupational licensing reform, foreign policy, and military history.