The U.S. ended the draft in 1973 and converted to all-volunteer military forces. However, federal law requires young men between the ages of 18 and 25 to register with the Selective Service. The Military Selective Service Act governs the independent agency's operations and provides categories of men exempted from service, registration or both.
History of the Draft
In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act into law, creating America's first peacetime draft and establishing the Selective Service as an independent federal agency. By far the largest numbers of men drafted through the Selective Service – more than 10 million – served in World War II. The draft ended in 1973 following U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, and mandatory Selective Service registration ended in 1975. Although President Jimmy Carter lifted the suspension of mandatory registration in 1980 following the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan, he did not reinstate the draft.
Selective Service Registration
All male citizens and legal permanent residents of the United States between the ages of 18 and 25 must register with Selective Service. Those in the country on a visitor, student or diplomatic visa are not required to register. Women are not eligible for selective service registration.
Not everyone required to register would necessarily be inducted into the armed forces with the reinstatement of the draft. If inductions began, the men would be called by random lottery number and year of birth. Although men as young as 18 must register, only men 20 and over are draft-eligible. Once called, each man would be examined and classified according to his mental, physical and moral fitness. The Selective Service Act exempts men from registration only in a few circumstances, including those already enlisted and on active duty in the armed forces, students in officer procurement programs and men committed to medical or correctional institutions.
Read More: How to Find Selective Service Registration Number Online
Exemptions from Training and Service
Many men still required to register with Selective Service would be exempt from being drafted for military service. Ordained ministers and men with physical disabilities, for example, must register. However, if called for draft examination they would be exempted from service.Conscientious objectors also are exempt from military training and service, but the law does not necessarily exempt them from being drafted. Federal law allows conscientious objectors to be assigned noncombat or civilian service in lieu of military service. Conscientious objector status must be based on religious training and belief, not personal philosophical or moral code.
Deferment of Training and Service
Although not entirely exempt from military service, broader categories of men may have their active service deferred if the president reinstates the draft. For example, the act gives the president authority to defer the service of men with minor physical or mental deficiencies, men with children or other family members who depend on them for the bulk of their support, or men working in industries necessary to national security. Additionally, the act provides deferment for elected officials in state and federal government during their terms of office. Students preparing for the ministry and enrolled in school full-time may defer service as long as they are making satisfactory progress towards completion of the program. Other students, however, may only defer service until the end of the academic semester. Seniors may postpone their induction until the end of the school year.
- Selective Service System: The Military Selective Service Act
- USA.gov: Selective Service
- Selective Service System: Who Must Register Chart
- Selective Service System: History and Records -- Background of Selective Service
- Selective Service System: About the Agency -- Quick Facts and Figures
- Selective Service System: History and Records -- How the Draft has Changed since Vietnam
- Selective Service System: History and Records -- Induction Statistics
Jennifer Mueller has a J.D. from the University of Indiana, Maurer School of Law. She has been sharing her legal knowledge on the internet since 2009. Mueller has been published in the Indiana Law Journal, and her writing appears on legal websites such as LegalZoom.