Rostker v. Goldberg Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Plaintiff’s brought suit, alleging the Military Selective Service Act (MSSA) violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

Facts of the case

After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in early 1980, President Jimmy Carter reactivated the draft registration process. Congress agreed with Carter’s decision, but did not enact his recommendation that the Military Selective Service Act (MSSA) be amended to include the registration of females. A number of men challenged the constitutionality of the MSSA, and the challenge was sustained by a district court.


May the federal government require only males to register with the Selective Service?


Justice William Rehnquist (J. Rehnquist) writes for the majority, noting that the primary objective for the MSSA is to provide a supply of combat troops in times when a military draft is necessary, clearly an important government interest.
As to the means, J. Rehnquist notes that only men (as a group) are eligible for combat duty. Because of this, registering all women is a substantial administrative inconvenience for a small degree of payoff. Men and women are thus differently situated for purposes of a draft. Furthermore, most non-combat positions are filled by combat-ready troops that are rotated with other troops, further diminishing the payoff from the registration of women.


It was held that the exemption of women did not violate the equal protection clause under the Fifth Amendment , since (1) Congress did not act unthinkingly or reflexively and not for any considered reason and its decision was not the accidental byproduct of a traditional way of thinking about women and (2) women as a group, unlike men as a group, not being eligible for combat, the exemption of women was closely related to the congressional purpose in instituting registration which was to prepare for a draft of combat troops and, rather than being invidious, realistically reflected the fact that the sexes were not similarly situated.

  • Case Brief: 1981
  • Appellant: Rostker
  • Appellee: Goldberg
  • Decided by: Burger Court

Citation: 453 US 57 (1981)
Argued: Mar 24, 1981
Decided: Jun 25, 1981