Action needed to kill California Senate’s military draft bill
Seabees, Marines, soldiers and members of the Afghan National Army on patrol in Afghanistan in June 2010. | Ace Rheuame / U.S. Navy

SACRAMENTO—After hearings on its policy and fiscal implications, the California Senate has deferred action on a bill to automatically register draft-age applicants for driver’s licenses and state IDs with the Selective Service System for a possible future military draft, by placing the bill on the Senate Appropriations Committee “suspense file.” This means that unless the Senate Appropriations Committee decides by May 17, 2024, to call up the bill and forward it to the state Senate floor, the bill will be dead.

The Acting Director of the Selective Service System (who had been on the West Coast to swear in a new Washington State Director of Selective Service) and the Deputy Associate SSS Director for Legislative Affairs spent several days in Sacramento lobbying state senators in support of SB-1081. The Acting SSS Director was the lead witness in support of SB-1081 at the Senate Transportation Committee hearing on 9 April 2024.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 12-2 (with one Democratic and one Republican member in opposition, and another Democratic member not voting) to send SB-1081 on to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which held its own perfunctory hearing on 22 April 2024 before placing SB-1081 on its “suspense file” by unanimous consent.

In California, bills that would result in significant costs to the state are placed on the “suspense file” to allow fiscal priorities for the state budget to be determined. Decisions as to which bills to call up for further action, and which to allow to die “in suspense,” are typically made behind closed doors by state senate leaders—especially the Senate President pro tem—and the Chair and members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

SB-1081 could be called up from the suspense file and sent to the state senate floor at any time, but most likely it will be considered along with all the other bills in the suspense file at a “suspense hearing” shortly before the 17 May 2024 deadline.

The lobbying visit to Sacramento by the top national officials of the SSS reflects the existential importance of this bill to the attempt by the SSS to rescue the system from failure and save their agency and their own jobs from elimination. Especially since the repeal of laws that used to condition Federal and California financial aid for higher education on draft registration, the SSS depends primarily on state laws like SB-1081 to coerce or trick young men into signing up for a possible future draft when they think they are merely signing up for a driver’s license, without legal counsel and often without realizing what is happening or its potential life-or-death consequences.

California has rejected bills like this at least seven times since 2000, but the Selective Slavery System (as some like to call it) and supporters of military conscription won’t give up.

Action requested now

It’s important for opponents of military conscription to contact the California Senate President pro tem and the Chair and members of the Appropriations Committee as soon as possible and before the 17 May 2024 deadline for action on bills in the suspense file at the latest. Tell them you oppose SB-1081 and urge them to “Leave SB-1081 in the suspense file.”

Fiscal arguments may not have much to do with what’s fundamentally wrong with the draft and draft registration, but they seem to be more likely to sway legislators (and the Governor, if the bill makes it to his desk).

Here are templates for individual and organizational e-mail messages you can customize. There are more arguments here and below against SB-1081:

SB-1081 would be bad policy, for reasons that have been expressed to the Senate Transportation Committee and Appropriations Committee by organizations including the Military Law Task Force of the National Lawyers Guild (policy objections; fiscal objections), American Friends Service Committee, Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft, Friends Committee on Legislation of California, ACLU California Action, Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California (AJSOCAL), Long Beach Area Peace Network, Orange County Peace Coalition, San Jose Peace & Justice Center, Peninsula Peace & Justice Center, California Immigrant Policy Center, Center on Conscience and War, Santa Barbara Friends Meeting, and Veterans for Peace Chapter 110 (Long Beach).

SB-1081 would also be costly, and would divert scarce resources from the state’s General Fund that are needed for other state priorities and programs to meet human needs throughout the state.

The California Constitution prohibits the use of motor vehicle funds for unrelated purposes such as Selective Service registration. Even if Federal start-up funding is made available to the DMV, ongoing expenses of this program would have to come from the General Fund.

The DMV and the state of California have more important priorities than trying to enforce federal criminal laws or rescue a failed federal program. Federal laws should be enforced by federal law enforcement agencies, at federal expense, in a manner that affords potential draftees due process, their day in court, their right to counsel, the opportunity to challenge the legality and constitutionality of the Selective Service registration requirement and protection against self-incrimination.

The former Director of the SSS testified in 2019 that the current registration database is so incomplete and inaccurate that it would be “less than useless” for an actual draft.

Adding applicants for California driver’s licenses to this database, without regard for whether they are required to register or eligible to be drafted, would make the database less accurate.

Whether an individual is required to register with the SSS depends on their citizenship, immigration status, type of visa (if any) with which they entered the U.S., and sex as assigned at birth. Neither the DMV nor the SSS currently has records of any of this information.

California has chosen to require the DMV to issue driver’s licenses without regard for immigration status, and to allow applicants to self-select the gender identifier (M, F, or X) on their driver’s license. Individuals can also self-select the gender marker on U.S. passports and Social Security records. So none of these records can be used to identify immigration or visa status or sex as assigned at birth.

The only way for the DMV or the SSS to identify who is required to register with the SSS would be to interrogate every draft-age applicant for a driver’s license about their citizenship, immigration and visa status, and sex as assigned at birth. These questions are inappropriate for the DMV and unrelated to road safety. Collecting and recording this information would be costly.

California has worked hard to make it possible to obtain a driver’s license regardless of immigration status. SB-1081 would undo that progress, at significant cost. Either the DMV would need to question all draft-age applicants for driver’s licenses about their immigration status and record the answers in DMV records, or the SSS would need to cross-check records received from the DMV against immigration records. If it becomes known that information provided to the DMV will be cross-checked with immigration records to identify those subject to possible military conscription, immigrants will be deterred from obtaining driver’s licenses, with costly consequences for road safety.

The consequences of nonregistration with the SSS have been greatly exaggerated, and the trend has been away from imposing sanctions for nonregistration. Congress repealed the requirement to register with the SSS for federal student aid in 2020. California repealed the requirement to register with the SSS for state Cal Grants for higher education in 2021. Denial of federal jobs or naturalization requires evidence that nonregistration was “knowing and willful.” In most cases, there is no such evidence. According to the Federal Office of Personnel Management, only 1% of cases of non-registrants adjudicated by OPM result in denial of federal employment.

The SSS doesn’t need SB-1081 to inform draft-age California men that they are required to register with the SSS or to offer them an opportunity to do so. In 2023, the DMV entered into a memorandum of understanding to transmit monthly lists of all draft-age male applicants for California driver’s licenses or IDs to the SSS. Since the start of 2024, without the need for SB-1081, the DMV has been sending the SSS the name, birthdate, and address of each draft-age male applicant for a license or ID. The SSS can, and already does, send notices—at SSS and not DMV expense—to inform these men of the registration requirement and offer them a chance to register.

SB-1081 has serious legal defects and could lead to prolonged, costly, and disruptive litigation. Some other states have enacted similar laws, but those laws have not been tested against California’s higher standards of legal protection for privacy, LGBTQ+ rights, and immigrants’ rights.

California legislators shouldn’t impose the costs of SB-1081 on our state. Leave SB-1081 in the “suspense file.”

Right now would be a good time to contact the California Senate President pro tem and the Chair and members of the Appropriations Committee.

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Edward Hasbrouck
Edward Hasbrouck

Edward Hasbrouck is a member of the Authors’ Rights Expert Group of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a member of the National Writers Union, and a consultant to The Identity Project on travel-related human rights and civil liberties issues. He is the author of The Practical Nomad travel book series. He was imprisoned in 1983-1984 for organizing resistance to draft registration.