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Appeals Court Upholds America's All-Male Military Draft

U.S. Military Academy cadets wear protective face masks as they take instructions at a Call for Fire range during tactical and physical training activities as part of Cadet Summer Training at West Point, New York, Aug. 7, 2020.

A federal appeals court in New Orleans upheld America’s all-male military draft system Thursday, citing a lack of authority to overturn a 1981 Supreme Court case that deemed the practice constitutional.

The decision overrules a 2019 lower court ruling. The appellate court held that “only the Supreme Court may revise its precedent.”

Arguments for the case began in March after a lawsuit filed by the National Coalition of Men and two male individuals challenged the male-only draft, which has not been used since the Vietnam War. Unlike today, women were largely barred from combat at the time of the 1981 high court case, the plaintiffs argued, making the ruling outdated.

The three-judge panel unanimously acknowledged the validity of the plaintiff’s argument, stating that “the factual underpinning of the controlling Supreme Court decision has changed,” but such a shift in policy “does not grant a court of appeals license to disregard or overrule that precedent.”

Women were first permitted to enroll in the U.S. military academies in 1976. They began serving in active combat roles in the 1990s.

Although the draft was suspended in 1973, men ages 18 to 26 are still required to register and are liable to be called into service in the case of a national emergency.

Earlier this year, a federal commission suggested including women in the draft.

“The commission concluded that the time is right to extend Selective Service System registration to include men and women, between the ages of 18 and 26. This is a necessary and fair step, making it possible to draw on the talent of a unified nation in a time of national emergency,” the commission’s final report said.

Plaintiffs may seek a rehearing before a full 17-judge appeals panel or they may appeal the case to the Supreme Court. Harry Crouch, president of the National Coalition for Men, said organization leaders will discuss their next move with attorneys.

Marc Angelucci, one of the attorneys arguing for the National Coalition of Men, was shot to death in July. Authorities later connected Angelucci’s killing in California to Roy Den Hollander, who was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound the day after an ambush in New Jersey killed U.S. District Judge Esther Salas’ 20-year-old son and wounded her husband.