Carpetbagger Draft Boards

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.