• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the Selective Service Act of 1917.

Several persons convicted of draft evasion asserted that compulsory military conscription was inconsistent with both the Thirteenth Amendment’s prohibition against involuntary servitude and the religious clauses of the First Amendment. Speaking for the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Edward D. WhiteWhite, Edward D.;Selective Draft Law Cases[Selective Draft Law Cases] responded that congressional authority for imposing the draft was firmly grounded in the authorization of Congress to declare war and “to raise and support armies.” Conscription was entirely consistent with Anglo-American traditions, and it was a necessary corollary to federal sovereignity and the power to wage war. White found no reason to conclude that the draft, which contained an exemption for conscientious objectors, infringed on any rights under the First Amendment. In addition, he wrote that the obligations of citizenship included the “supreme and noble duty of contributing to the defense of the rights and honor of the nation.” Although many people objected to White’s patriotic tone, the Court never overturned any of his rulings.Conscription;Selective Draft Law Cases[Selective Draft Law Cases]

In writing his majority opinion in the draft cases, Chief Justice Edward D. White found no conflict between military conscription and the First Amendment.

(Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States)

Conscientious objection

Conscription

Thirteenth Amendment

Wartime seizure power

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