Selective Draft Law Cases 1918

Author:Daniel Brannen, Richard Hanes, Elizabeth Shaw

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Appellants: Joseph F. Arver and others

Appellee: United States of America

Appellants' Claim: That the Selective Draft Act of 1917 violated various provisions of the U.S. Constitution including Section 8 of Article I and the First and Thirteenth amendments.

Chief Lawyers for Appellants: T.E. Latimer, Edwin T. Taliferro, Harry Weinberger

Chief Lawyer for Appellee: John W. Davis, Solicitor General

Justices for the Court: Louis D. Brandeis, John H. Clarke, William R. Day, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Joseph McKenna, James C. McReynolds, Mahlon Pitney, Willis Van Devanter, Chief Justice Edward D. White

Justices Dissenting: None

Date of Decision: January 7, 1918

Decision: Ruled in favor of the United States by finding that the act did not violate any section of the U.S. Constitution.

Significance: The case was the first to reach the Supreme Court challenging the federal government's legal power to draft men into the military. With the power confirmed, the military draft was used at various times throughout the twentieth century including the Vietnam War (1964–1975).

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In 1917 as America entered World War I (1914–1918), patriotic songs sounded in the hearts and minds of young men enthusiastically answering the call to register for the newly-established draft. Encouraged by government posters as well as the songs, millions stood in long lines to sign up. Yet others chose to not heed the call and refused to register. America has a long history of using conscription (drafting citizens into military service) to raise short-term military forces in time of conflict. However, opposition to conscription by pacifists (those who believe disputes must be settled by peaceful means), members of certain religious groups, and opponents of particular wars has an equally long history.

Raising an Army

Historically, during times of tension, America has often relied on volunteers to fight its wars. But, even in colonial times men were sometimes conscripted to serve in local militias (army of citizens called together in emergencies). Though colonies sent local militia troops to fight in the Revolutionary War (1775–1783), they denied George Washington's (1732–1799) request to gather a national army by conscription. The U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1789, gave Congress the "power to raise and support armies" but it neither called for nor prohibited conscription.

Not until the American Civil War (1861–1865), did the need to maintain massive armies bring a taste of national conscription to America. In April of 1862, the Confederate Congress (Southern states) passed a conscription law requiring every white man aged eighteen to thirty-five to serve for...

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