Rostker v. Goldberg

Rostker v. Goldberg

Rostker v. Goldberg
Argued March 24, 1981
Decided June 25, 1981
Full case name Bernard Rostker, Director of Selective Service, et al. v. Robert L. Goldberg, et al.
Citations 453 U.S. 57 (more)
The Act's registration provisions do not violate the Fifth Amendment. Congress acted well within its constitutional authority to raise and regulate armies and navies when it authorized the registration of men and not women.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Rehnquist, joined by Burger, Stewart, Blackmun, Powell, Stevens
Dissent White, joined by Brennan
Dissent Marshall, joined by Brennan
Laws applied

Rostker v. Goldberg, 453 U.S. 57 (1981), was a decision of the United States Supreme Court holding that the practice of requiring only men to register for the draft was constitutional. After extensive hearings, floor debate and committee sessions on the matter, the United States Congress enacted the law, as it had previously been, to apply to men only. Several attorneys, including Robert L. Goldberg, subsequently challenged the gender distinction as unconstitutional. (The named defendant is Bernard D. Rostker, Director of the Selective Service System.) In a 6-to-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that this gender distinction was not a violation of the equal protection component of the due process clause, and that the Act would stand as passed.


  • Draft and registration laws 1
  • Case background 2
  • Case arguments 3
    • Ruling 3.1
    • Dissenting opinion 3.2
  • See also 4
  • External links 5

Draft and registration laws

The Military Selective Service Act (Act) (1948) (revised 1967) authorizes the President to require the registration for possible military service of males, but not females, the purpose of registration being to facilitate any eventual conscription under the Act.

However, registration for the draft was discontinued by Presidential Proclamation in 1974 (the Act was amended in 1973 to preclude conscription). In early 1980, President Jimmy Carter re-established the Military Selective Service System primarily because the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan. President Carter also recommended that the Act be amended so that the MSSA extended to include women. The question of registering women for the draft not only received considerable national attention and was the subject of wide-ranging public debate, but also was extensively considered by Congress in hearings, floor debate, and in committee. On April 22 in the House and June 12th in the Senate, a Joint Resolution to resume the registration process was passed. However, the full requested fund amount was not granted, rather just the funds required to register men. Registration of young men started on July 21, 1980.

Case background

In 1971 an anti-war group, the Philadelphia Resistance, gathered a group of young male high school students, including Andrew Rowland, his brother, David Sitman and David Fruedman to protest the draft. In Rowland v. Tarr (1971) the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania heard a challenge to the MSSA on several grounds, one of which was gender discrimination. In 1974, they were not granted a 3-judge court opinion because the draft was now discontinued. This group of men petitioned again in 1974 in Goldberg v. Tarr. Robert Goldberg was a medical student at Penn State who registered and claimed to be a conscientious objector. In July 1980, just a few days before registration was to commence again, the district court offered an opinion claiming that the MSSA violated the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment.

The director of the Selective Service System, Bernard Rostker, filed an appeal and the circuit judge stayed the court decision and registration began as scheduled. Rostker v. Goldberg moved up to the Supreme Court.

Case arguments

The Army and Marine Corps precluded the use of women in combat as a matter of established policy, and both the Navy and the Air Force restricted women’s participation in combat. Even the president-who had originally suggested that women be included-expressed his intent to continue the current military policy excluding women from combat. Since the purpose of registration was to prepare for a draft of combat troops, and since women are excluded from combat, Congress concluded that they would not be needed in the event of a draft, and therefore decided funds should not be used to register them. As one Senator said, “It has been suggested that all women be registered, but only a handful actually be inducted in an emergency. The Committee finds this a confused and ultimately unsatisfactory solution." As the Senate Committee recognized a year before, "training would be needlessly burdened by women recruits who could not be used in combat." All in all the proponents of the current MSSA advocated not using government funds to register people who were excluded from the job anyway. The main point of those who favored the registration of females was that females were in favor of it because of gender equality principles; women, as full citizens, ought to have the same civic duties and responsibilities as men.


In the majority opinion, Justice William Rehnquist wrote "[t]he existence of the combat restrictions clearly indicates the basis for Congress' decision to exempt women from registration. The purpose of registration was to prepare for a draft of combat troops. Since women are excluded from combat, Congress concluded that they would not be needed in the event of a draft, and therefore decided not to register them." Implicit in the obiter dicta of the ruling was to hold valid the statutory restrictions on gender discrimination in assigning combat roles. Men and women, because of the combat restrictions on women, are simply not similarly situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft therefore, there is no violation of the Due Process Clause. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the decision of the district court.

Dissenting opinion

White, Marshall, and Brennan dissented. Justice White did not think that excluding women “offended the Constitution” but rather that Congress did not “conclude that every position in the military, no matter how far removed from combat, must be filled with combat ready men.” Marshall dissented on the principle of equal civic obligation.

See also

External links

  • 453 U.S. 57 Full text of the opinion courtesy of
  • Summary of case from OYEZ