The Pentagon's top brass didn't push for a draft in 2005 when recruiting efforts slumped and they needed more troops for the expanding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations and history at Boston University. Instead, it hired contractors by the thousands, called up reservists, and used an arcane rule known as "stop-loss" to extend, involuntarily, by months the tours of active-duty troops, said Bacevich, a retired Army colonel.
With formation of the all-volunteer force under way, President Gerald Ford ended the peacetime draft registration process in 1975. But after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan a few years later, World War III suddenly seemed possible, and President Jimmy Carter ordered a return to registration as a show of resolve. Carter, ever the progressive politician, added a twist. He wanted young women, not just young men, to sign up.
But Congress and certainly the country weren't ready for such a seismic cultural shift, and lawmakers refused to allow the registration of women.
Elaine Eidson, a mother of three sons and a daughter from Haleyville, Ala., spoke for what she described as the country's "silent majority" in testimony she gave in March 1980 to a House subcommittee that quickly shelved Carter's proposal. "This I will not stand for, nor will the American people stand for it," said Eidson, a member of the conservative Eagle Forum, according to the hearing record. "You cannot draft our women."
The Supreme Court's ruling came a year later and validated Congress' rejection of Carter's plan. The case that triggered the decision took a circuitous route to the high court. It was originally filed in federal court in Philadelphia during the waning days of the Vietnam War by a young medical school student named Robert Goldberg. He challenged the constitutionality of the Military Selective Service Act on the grounds that it discriminated against men by excluding women from draft registration. While Goldberg was subject to the draft, his number was never called.