Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff’s brought suit, alleging the Military Selective Service Act (MSSA) violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The federal government may classify on the basis of race, but only when there is an important government interest and the means are substantially related to the interest.
Issue. May the federal government require only males to register with the Selective Service?
Justice William Rehnquist (J. Rehnquist) writes for the majority, noting that the primary objective for the MSSA is to provide a supply of combat troops in times when a military draft is necessary, clearly an important government interest.
As to the means, J. Rehnquist notes that only men (as a group) are eligible for combat duty. Because of this, registering all women is a substantial administrative inconvenience for a small degree of payoff. Men and women are thus differently situated for purposes of a draft. Furthermore, most non-combat positions are filled by combat-ready troops that are rotated with other troops, further diminishing the payoff from the registration of women.
Dissent. Justice Byron White (J. White) dissents, arguing that there are jobs that can be performed by persons ineligible for combat duty. As such, there is no reason that Congress cannot recruit women for these positions.
Discussion. Again, J. Rehnquist does not use the intermediate scrutiny terminology, although it may clearly be applied to the case at bar. There is an important government interest (providing for a draft) and a substantially related means to achieve the interest (requiring only men to register, where only men are eligible for combat as a group).