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The White Court (1910–21)

Labor

In what decision did the Court uphold the military draft law?

The White Court unanimously ruled in six cases, collectively called the Selective Draft Law Cases, that the Selective Service Act of 1917 was constitutional. Six individuals—Joseph Arver, Alfred Grahl, Otto Wangerin, Walter Wangerin, Louis Kramer, and Meyer Graubard—challenged their convictions for failing to register for the draft. They argued that the law conflicted with the Constitution’s power to call state militias to duty, violated the religion clauses of the First Amendment, and constituted involuntary servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Chief Justice White reasoned in Arver v. United States (1918) and the other five cases that the history of the country showed the need for congressional power to raise an army, noting that one of the main reasons for the adoption of the Constitution in 1787 was that the previous Articles of Confederation lacked the power to raise an army. The Court rejected all of the defendants’ constitutional challenges, reasoning that the clear language of the Constitution granted Congress the power to create a national army and nothing in the Militia Clause limited that right. The Court brushed aside the First Amendment argument, writing that “its unsoundness is too apparent to require us to do more.” The Court also summarily rejected the Thirteenth Amendment argument, noting that military service was “the performance of his supreme and noble duty.”



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