The Nation, September 8, 1969
CAN A MAN be classified and inducted by a draft board whose members do not live in the area of the board’s jurisdiction? According to two federal judges in Northern California, the answer is no. In a recent pair of decisions that could have a major impact on the Selective Service System, U.S. District Court Judges Robert F. Peckham and Alfonso Zirpoli acquitted, in separate cases, two draft resisters who contended that their draft boards were not lawfully constituted.
Selective Service regulations provide that “the members of local boards…shall, if at all practicable, be residents of the area in which the local board has jurisdiction.” The purpose of the regulation is to implement Congress’ intent that draft boards be composed of “little groups of neighbors.” Since the only qualifications necessary for draft board members is that they be civilian U.S. citizens between the ages of 30 and 75, there is no “practicable” reason why they cannot be chosen from the district where they induct — or so Judges Peckham and Zirpoli ruled.
While the California decisions are not binding on other federal judges, they set a precedent that could open the Selective Service System to wholesale legal attack. Lawyers talk of the possibility of writs of habeas corpus for imprisoned draft resisters and even active-duty GIs whose draft board memberships violated Selective Service regulations. Now draft refusers from certain board area may have a potent legal arrow to add to their quiver.
Selective Service officials in California are clearly worried. They will not say how many draft boards might be affected by the recent rulings, though one official admits it is a “substantial number.” Ghetto boards in particular are notorious for being made up of outsiders. Since board members’ addresses are not made public, it is difficult for outsiders to pinpoint the “carpetbaggers.” But in the last few weeks, nearly fifty California lawyers have obtained court orders allowing them to determine whether their young clients’ draft boards are “lawfully constituted.”
There are long-term pitfalls, of course, in this kind of assault on the draft. The Selective Service System can revise its regulations, or start packing draft boards with neighborhood residents. Moreover, a man whose classification or induction is ruled invalid because of a board’s illegal membership can always be reclassified and reinducted by a new and lawfully constituted board. But the short-run prospects are cheering.