Yes, In Order To Be Fair to Registrants
Yes, In Order To Be Fair to Registrants
By Gerald B. Solomon
It is sometimes necessary to restate even the most obvious of truisms, if only to prevent them from being overlooked amid the sound and fury of passing political debate.
The twin principles upon which rests the so-called Solomon Amendment [to the fiscal 1983 Defense Department authorization bill, passed last year], which denies federal assistance to students who fail to register for a potential military draft, are these: It is the first priority of our federal government to preserve freedom and national security, and it is the primary responsibility of free citizens to obey the laws that are necessary to guarantee that freedom.
President Carter was the first post-Vietnam president to determine that peacetime draft registration is essential in order to speed up labor mobilization in event of a national emergency. We do not have a draft at this time; I pray that our national circumstances remain such that we will never need a draft. But in today's volatile, shrinking world, webbed as it is by jets, satellites, and other instruments of modern warfare, I for one am not willing to wager our peace and freedom that we may never need a draft.
Bad as it would be to eliminate draft registration, however, it would be far more deleterious to our government if we were to enforce it in a haphazard fashion. More6
than 10 million patriotic young men have lived up to the law and have met this simple, painless obligation to their country. Nothing could be worse than to see their government let a handful of others skip out on this obligation scot-free.
No, that's not quite correct. Something could be far worse. And that would be to let these 10 million young men, their parents, and the taxpayers of this country know that, not only would the government wink at willful violations of the draft-registration act, but that we would reward such violators. Reward them, that is, with continued access to taxpayer-funded benefits to pursue their college education and to advance themselves in a free society that they are not willing to make even a modicum of effort to protect.
It is the intent of the Solomon Amendment to prevent this rank discrimination against the law-abiding and to conserve limited federal resources for those who live up to national obligations.
I applaud the recent decision by the Justice Department to prosecute some 70,000 registration resisters whose names have been provided by the Selective Service System. But felony prosecution is a blunt instrument; it can scar a young man for a lifetime. And many bank on the fact that there is neither court nor jail space enough to accommodate every violator.
The Solomon Amendment is both more effective and less onerous. Thanks to the amendment, we have educated our young men to the fact that draft registration exists as a fundamental obligation of citizenship, and we have let the handful of willing resisters know that the government means business in enforcing this obligation.
When I offered my amendment in July 1982, an estimated 7 percent of our draft-aged men (about 700,000) had either forgotten or refused to register. Since then, the number of those not registered has dropped by more than 250,000.
In other words, old resisters are registering, as are young men just coming into the system. The amendment has increased compliance rates, while at the same time serving the collateral function of preserving fairness in the distribution of governmental assistance.
I disagree with those who charge that the Solomon Amendment itself violates fundamental constitutional rights or the right to disobey on moral, religious, or philosophical grounds.
Our law was tested in federal district court in Minnesota and was enjoined from enforcement on March 7, 1983, by U.S. District Judge Donald Alsop. The judge labeled the law a bill of attainder, that is, a legislative finding of guilt without due process and a violation of the Fifth Amendment's guarantee against self-incrimination.
On July 29, 1983, however, just three days before the amendment's scheduled enforcement date, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Solomon Amendment into effect. The lifting of the lower court's injunction could have been done by Justice Harry A. Blackmun himself; instead, all nine justices unanimously concurred in the decision. That ruling was, I believe, a broad hint that the Court will ultimately find the Solomon Amendment constitutional. [The U.S. Justice Department has since asked the Court to uphold the constitutionality of the amendment.]
And with good reason. Judge Alsop and other opponents of the Solomon Amendment have made the simple mistake of conflating Constitutional rights with Congressional entitlements. There is, of course, a fundamental distinction. And federal student financial assistance is an entitlement, with criteria for access, and not an inalienable right.
We are not assigning guilt or innocence. We are not denying a right without a fair trial. We are simply adding one more criterion to the 20-odd criteria that now exist--such as graduation from an accredited high school or a certain family-income ceiling--to be met in order to be privileged with student assistance at taxpayer expense.
Those who cite civil disobedience as a rationale for opposing the Solomon Amendment are likewise befuddled. First, conscientious-objector status is irrelevant to draft registration. It has bearing only at the classification stage of the draft process, and you must be registered to be classified as a conscientious objector.
And before a young man fancies himself to be following in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau, Mohandas Gandhi, or Martin Luther King Jr., he should remember that these great men taught that you have a moral right to disobey laws you morally object to--not a right to expect to get off scot-free for doing so, let alone to be subsidized by the taxpayers.
But while those who protest the Solomon Amendment on constitutional grounds are merely confused, those who protest that it is inconvenient or an improper police function for academic administrators are morally feckless.
This is not the first time that Congress has tied social policy to education. Colleges and universities have long been the instruments by which government has pursued its civil-rights and affirmative-action goals. More recently, schools discovered that they must meet the government's demands for access to the handicapped. These are worthwhile goals to police. But so is the goal of protecting our nation's defense.
It is a national disgrace that so much energy is spent in attempts to circumvent, de-lay, or repeal the Solomon Amendment. Promises to aid students who violate the amendment are a craven form of elitism by wealthy Ivy League schools. Attempts to undo it on Capitol Hill are doomed in the face of overwhelming support by the Congress and the American people.
Such attempts are also unfair to our young people--unfair to the 10 million who have registered and unfair to the handful who refuse and may well live to regret such refusal later on. That is why I believe all colleges and universities should urge their students to register for the draft. In years to come, they and their children will be glad they did.
Gerald B. Solomon, a Republican, represents the 24th Congressional District in New York.