Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Thursday appeared to favor abolishing the draft, amid the debate over whether women should be forced to register.
“It stands to reason that you will reconsider the Selective Service System and its treatment of females in view of the Department of Defense policies and practices with respect to women,” Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “But the second thing I’d like to say about the Selective Service System and the draft generally is this: We want to pick our people. We don’t want people forced to serve us.”
Carter’s decision sparked a debate about how that affects the draft. In 1981, the Supreme Court ruled that women didn’t have to register because combat jobs were closed to them.
Three bills have been introduced in Congress related to the draft. One would require women to register, one would abolish the draft and one would specify that only Congress could change the draft’s rules.
In addition, two lawsuits that allege the Selective Service System is discriminatory for excluding women are working their way through the courts.
Two of Carter’s military chiefs — of the Army and of the Marines — have said they think women should be required to register.
The Selective Service System, which administers the draft, is a separate agency from the Defense Department. It was created via statute and so can only be changed via statute, Carter said.
“It is governed by statute, so you will have a voice any implications for that,” Carter told the committee.
One-third of Americans don’t qualify for the military because of health issues, a lack of a high school diploma or a criminal record, he added.
“We don’t want a draft,” he said. “We don’t want people chosen for us. We want to pick people. That’s what the all-volunteer force is all about. That’s why the all-volunteer force is so excellent.”
There hasn’t been a draft since the Vietnam War.
Sen. Mike LeeMike LeeSenate sends annual defense bill to Obama's desk Overnight Healthcare: Medical cures bill finally heads to White House Overnight Energy: Trump taps EPA foe to head agency | Energy reform bill officially dead MORE (R-Utah), who introduced the bill specifying Congress's role in changing the draft, welcomed Carter's comments.
“I appreciate the sentiment I understand you’re expressing, which is that any change to the universe of persons subject to the Selective Service registration requirement needs to be by Congress,” he said, “rather than administratively or by the courts.”