Since 2002, Hawaii has been automatically registering young men for Selective Service when they apply for a driver’s permit, license or a state ID. When Hawaii lawmakers voluntarily enacted the authorizing law in 2001, there were no state penalties for young men who didn’t comply with the federal Military Selective Services Act.

It wasn’t Hawaii’s place to punish its citizens for failing to comply with a federal law; the feds already had their own consequences in place.

Fourteen years later, certain Hawaii representatives want to subject these young men to double jeopardy with additional educational, state and county punishments. House Bill 52, the Selective Service Registration Awareness and Compliance Act, would bar these young men from enrolling in any University of Hawaii system school. HB52 would also prohibit them from serving their state or counties as underpaid employees.

HB52 would go as far as prohibiting those who don’t comply from even serving the state or counties as volunteers in civic service – “including all offices, self-governing bodies, boards and commissions, departments, agencies, institutions, and instrumentalities.”

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Because the Selective Service Act only applies to males, a state law penalizing those who don’t comply would impose a discriminatory burden on men, the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission argues.

U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Aaron Cram

When these young men are barred from serving their civic communities in a manner that does not involve the potential for violence, you cannot justify HB52 with the term “patriotism.” Basically, the Legislature would take away more rights from these young men then it would from a convicted murderer on probation.

HB52 sailed through the first two House committees without any reservations or “no” votes, despite grave concerns expressed by UH and the office of the state Attorney General. UH testified that “there will be major impacts on the workload of frontline operations, involving the altering of computerized and manual workflows to the University admissions and financial aid application processes.”  There would be a very costly economic impact for UH to screen half of its applicants and enrollees, systemwide.

The AG’s testimony stated that HB52 would be in violation of the Hawaii Constitution, Article X, Section 6, which provides that the UH Board of Regents “shall also have exclusive jurisdiction over the internal structure, management, and operation of the university.”

By the time the bill reached its third House committee referral, the overwhelming majority of the testimony was in opposition to HB 52; however, the bill still passed the Committee on Finance, this time with multiple reservations and one “no” vote.

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When Franklin Roosevelt re-initiated the Selective Service System in 1940 at Washington’s Mellon Auditorium (above), the system was accompanied by federal penalties for non-compliance. Hawaii would be ill advised to now tack on educational, state and county penalties, too

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The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission testified that it “strongly opposes H.B. No. 52, H.D.1, because it codifies sex discrimination into state law. . . . because the federal Selective Service Act only applies to males, the proposed prohibition is limited to males.”

“It imposes a discriminatory burden on men that does not apply to women,” the Commission said.

The Commission also cited the Equal Protection Clause of the Hawaii Constitution, Article I, Section 5: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of the person’s civil rights or be discriminated against in the exercise thereof because of race, religion, sex, or ancestry.”

(Editor’s note: Iwamoto is one of five Commission members.)

Our state civil rights laws prohibit employers from making certain inquiries about a job applicant, including the applicant’s sex. HB52 would require the state and counties to make assumptions about the sex of job applicants and then treat men and women differently in the application process.

The state and counties would have to defend their differentiated processes for men and women under a “strict scrutiny” standard, which means that they would have to demonstrate that they have a “compelling interest” in treating men and women differently.

Currently, there is a 9th Circuit Court challenge to the U.S. Military Selective Services Act on the basis that it violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, also known as the Equal Protection Clause. Given the recent progress toward greater gender equity and equality in the military, the United States may have a more difficult time justifying targeting only men as the least restrictive means of satisfying its compelling interest in building a militia.

It would be much harder for a state, and even harder for a county, to prove that it has an interest in penalizing young men if they do not comply with the Selective Services Act, since neither states nor counties have any responsibility to raise a militia.

Although HB52 explicitly impacts public employment and implicitly impacts civil rights, House leadership failed to assign the bill to the Labor and Public Employment or Judiciary. Consequently, HB52 was allowed to fly under the radar of the most predictable opponents: civil rights advocates, women’s equality groups, and labor organizations.

It should never be the sole responsibility of women to fight sexism; however, it was surprising that House members of the women’s caucus voted for HB52. Ultimately all sexism works against equality and equity for women.

The blatant sexism at the core of the Military Selective Services Act undermines the Fair Pay Act, Title IX, and any attempt to equalize the status of women in our society. If we stand by and allow the rights, privileges and responsibilities of citizenship to be assigned separately to men, how can we demand equality for women? HB52 does not promote patriotism, it perpetuates patriarchy.

It is not Hawaii’s place to punish its citizens for noncompliance with a federal statute, especially when that law promotes discrimination on the basis of sex. While some state representatives may have been fooled by HB52’s false sense of patriotism, senators hopefully will be appalled by HB52’s real sense of sexism in education and the workplace.

About the Author

  • Kim Coco Iwamoto
    Kim Coco Iwamoto was elected to the Hawaii Board of Education in 2006 and served until 2011. She also served on the Hawaii Teachers Standards Board from 2009 to 2011 and the Career & Technical Education Coordinating Advisory Council from 2007 to 2011. She was appointed to a four-year term on the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission in 2012.