U.S. House committee proposes automatic sign-up for military draft
Armed Forces Day anti-Vietnam War demonstration at Ft. Hood Army base in Killeen, Tex., May 15, 1971 (public domain)

During markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2025, the U.S. House Armed Services Committee (HASC) approved an amendment to the NDAA on May 22 that would automatically register all draft-age male U.S. residents with the Selective Service System for a possible military draft, based on information from other Federal databases. A video of this action in the House can be viewed here.

This system of automatic draft registration would replace the system in effect since 1980 in which young men can decide for themselves whether or not to sign up for the draft. So many choose not to register that the Selective Service database would be useless for an actual draft.

The automatic draft registration proposal was instigated by the Selective Service System (SSS) as part of its annual budget request to Congress, introduced by Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), “wholeheartedly” endorsed by HASC Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), and approved by voice vote of the full committee without audible opposition. The text of Rep. Houlahan’s proposal can be read here. Her office’s press release on the proposal can be read here.

Rep. Houlahan had been one of the leading advocates of proposals in previous years to expand draft registration to women as well as men. Her latest proposal for automatic registration of men only for a military draft indicates that she is more deeply committed to militarization than to any purported feminism.

Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan at a press conference, June 1, 2022 / Gov. Tom Wolf (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

The provisions for automatic draft registration are now included in the version of the NDAA that will go to the House floor. The NDAA is a “must-pass” bill, so these provisions are likely to remain in the version of the NDAA adopted later this year by the full House unless some House member introduces, and the full House agrees to vote on and approves, a floor amendment to remove them. It remains to be seen whether a similar provision will be included in the Senate version of the NDAA, although this may be likely.

The proposal for automatic draft registration makes it urgently important to find House and Senate sponsors to reintroduce the Selective Service Repeal Act, which had bipartisan sponsorship in both the House and Senate in 2021-22 but never got a hearing in either the House or Senate Armed Services Committee, much less a floor vote in either chamber of Congress.

The proposal that was added to the House version of the NDAA would authorize the Selective Service System (SSS) to issue regulations requiring any Federal agency to hand over any information in Federal records “necessary to identify or register a person subject to registration” with the SSS, and to register them without their participation or consent.

The SSS would also be authorized to issue regulations requiring individuals to provide information directly to the SSS, perhaps to cover instances in which individuals could be identified from other Federal records as subject to a military draft, but not with enough information, such as a current address, to register or draft them.

The proposal would also create a legal basis that could be used in the future for involuntary automatic registration of individuals subject to a special-skills military draft, such as for activation of the Health Care Personnel Delivery System.

“Automatic” registration for a military draft would be complex, difficult, and in some cases impossible. Whether a draft-age individual is required to register with the SSS depends on both their sex as assigned at birth and, if they aren’t a U.S. citizen, their immigration and visa status. Undocumented immigrants are supposed to register with the SSS, but foreign students and H-1 visa holders, many of whom are of draft age and who often live in the USA, legally, for years, are considered temporary “non-immigrant” U.S. residents. As such, they aren’t required or allowed to register with the SSS, or subject to a draft, under current law.

As with state motor vehicle agencies trying to determine which applicants for driver’s licenses are required to register with the SSS and which aren’t, the SSS would need to obtain—either from other agencies or directly from prospective draftees—immigration, visa, and birth information. But birth records are generally state and local, not federal records, and sex as assigned at birth is not necessarily included in any federal record.

Any applicant for a U.S. passport can now self-select the gender marker (M, F, or X) they want on their passport, without regard for their sex as assigned at birth. Similarly, an individual can now self-select the gender marker (again, M, F, or X) to be recorded in their Social Security account.

Automatic draft registration is likely to lead to automatic misregistration of individuals who aren’t eligible to be drafted, rendering the SSS database even less accurate or useful for an actual draft. Automatic registration of all draft-age U.S. residents, without regard for visa or immigration status or sex as assigned at birth, would add hundreds of thousands of draft-ineligible foreign students, H-1 visa holders, and trans and non-binary individuals who weren’t assigned male at birth (including, presumably, anyone who chooses a non-gendered “X” passport and Social Security account record, regardless of their sex as assigned at birth) to the registration list that would be used to generate induction orders if a draft were activated.

Automatic draft registration won’t make administering a draft easier, more effective, or more fair.

The reason warmongers want to switch from self-registration to involuntary and automatic registration isn’t to make a draft easier or even to make draft resistance harder. What they want is to make young people’s opposition to being drafted—currently manifested mostly through noncompliance with draft registration—less visible. That makes it all the more important for opponents of military conscription to educate, agitate, organize, and speak out now against planning and preparation for any type of draft.

Also on May 22, the California Senate voted 23-2, with one Republican and one Democrat voting “no” and 15 Senators not voting, to approve a bill to “automatically register draft-age male applicants for California driver’s licenses with the Selective Service System.” The bill, SB-1081, now goes to the California Assembly. Californians should tell their representatives in the state Assembly to oppose SB-1081. But if the proposal for national automatic draft registration is adopted by Congress, it would render state laws like this intended to boost Selective Service registration largely moot.

Tell Congress to repeal the Military Selective Service Act and abolish the Selective Service System entirely.

Draft Registration and Draft Resistance

For current information on registration and resistance, go to the website here.

Click here for further information on the Reintroduce the Selective Service Repeal Act.

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Edward Hasbrouck
Edward Hasbrouck

Edward Hasbrouck is a member of the Authors’ Rights Expert Group of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a member of the National Writers Union, and a consultant to The Identity Project on travel-related human rights and civil liberties issues. He is the author of The Practical Nomad travel book series. He was imprisoned in 1983-1984 for organizing resistance to draft registration.