AUSTIN, Texas – The chairman of a panel considering changes to the U.S. military draft said Monday its recommendations to Congress won't be influenced by a federal judge's recent ruling that the current system is unconstitutional because it only applies to men.
The military has not drafted anyone into service in more than 40 years, but American men must still register when they turn 18. Recent efforts to make registration also mandatory for women have set off intense debate in Washington.
U.S. District Judge Gray Miller declared a male-only draft unconstitutional in his ruling late Friday, but he stopped of ordering the government to make any immediate changes. He said the time for debating "the place of women in the Armed Forces" is over. Women now make up 20 percent of the Air Force, 19 percent of the Navy, 15 percent of the Army and 8.6 percent of the Marines, according to Pentagon figures.
The Justice Department declined comment Monday after losing the case out of Houston.
The decision comes as Congress awaits a report next year from an 11-member commission to study the issue of selective service. It is chaired by former Nevada Rep. Joe Heck, who personally supports that women also be required to register for the draft.
Heck said the ruling won't influence its report or hurry along the eventual recommendations to Congress. He described a generational divide in public comments his commission has collected about women and the draft.
"If you talk to those who would be impacted, that is males and females ages 18 to 25, they say, 'yes, women should have to register. It's a matter of equality,'" Heck said. "If you talk to an older population, they're the ones who seem to be reluctant."
The lawsuit in Texas was brought by the National Coalition for Men, a men's rights group. The Defense Department lifted the ban on women in combat in 2013, and Miller stopped of ordering the government to take any immediate action with the draft in his ruling late Friday.
"I actually thought the judge did that to give them time, because this is such a major change," said Marc Angelucci, a lawyer for the men's group.
The last major decision on selective service was the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1981 that upheld excluding women because they were not allowed to serve in comment at the time.
Miller, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush in 2006, noted that was no longer the case.
"While historical restrictions on women in the military may have justified past discrimination, men and women are now 'similarly situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft,'" Miller wrote. "If there ever was a time to discuss 'the place of women in the Armed Services,' that time has passed."
Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber