Federal Court Finds Draft Law Applied Illegally
Washington--A federal district judge in Los Angeles has ruled that the nation's draft-registration law is illegal because the Carter Administration violated federal rules when it put the law into effect during the summer of 1980.
U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. issued that opinion last week in dismissing charges against David A. Wayte, a former Yale University student from Pasadena who had been indicted for failure to register for the draft.
The draft law requires all young men to register for military conscription within a month of their 18th birthday. Those convicted on charges of failure to register face a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine.
To date, 13 men have been indicted on such charges, and four have been convicted. Mr. Wayte's case is the first in which charges have been dismissed since the government actively began prosecuting nonregistrants this summer.
Order to be Appealed
In a short statement, the Justice Department said it believed the opinion "is wrong." The department said it "will appeal the entire order" issued by Judge Hatter before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and will "proceed with the indictment and prosecution of nonregistrants in a routine manner" until its appeal is considered.
A spokesman for the Selective Service System said the draft agency will continue processing registration forms as usual. The agency will also continue cross-checking registration lists with state driver's license and Internal Revenue Service computer tapes in order to locate nonregistrants.
Mr. Wayte's lawyers defended his decision not to register on two fronts. First, they claimed that the government had unfairly chosen to prosecute him and several other vocal nonregistrants, hoping that publicity generated by their trials would spur most of the estimated 400,000 to 500,000 nonregistrants nationwide to sign up.
Last month, Judge Hatter ordered federal lawyers to produce documents related to the government's so-called "selective prosecution" strategy and also ordered Edwin Meese 3rd, the President's counselor, to testify about the strategy at Mr. Wayte's trial. The Justice Department and the Presidential counselor, however, have refused to comply with those orders.
Second, Mr. Wayte's counsel argued, the entire system of registration is illegal because former President Carter ordered the draft sign-up to begin 21 days after the law was published in the Federal Register. In doing so, he said, the President violated a 30-day public-notice rule.
Judge Hatter agreed with Mr. Wayte's lawyers on both of those points.
Opponents of the draft-registration law hailed the dismissal of the charges against Mr. Wayte at a press conference here last week, predicting that it would set a precedent for all other nonregistrants facing similar charges.
"The government's refusal to turn over important information to Judge Hatter indicates that there was an attempt to cover up their decision to selectively prosecute nonregistrants," said Teresita J. Ferrera, co-chairman of the Committee Against Registration and the Draft. "We are optimistic that other courts around the country will accept this defense."
Ms. Ferrera also called Judge Hatter's decision to invalidate the entire registration program "a significant setback for the Selective Service System."
"The government broke its own law when it failed to adhere to its own regulations," she said. "They did not allow the public sufficient time to respond."