1970 January 2

Court Rules Punitive Draft Reclassification of Vietnam War Protesters Illegal


In the case of Bucher v. Selective System Local Boards decided on this day, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals rule that it was illegal for draft boards to punitively reclassify anti-Vietnam War protesters. The Rev. Henry Hale Bucher and other protesters had turned in their draft cards to protest the Vietnam War, leaving them in violation of Selective System regulations, and they were then punitively reclassified as A-1 Delinquent by their local draft boards, meaning they were top priority for being drafted. The local boards acted according to Memorandum 85, issued by the Director of the Selective Service System on October 24, 1967.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the punitive reclassification constituted “summary punishment,” in violation of the constitutional guarantees of due process in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments (trial by jury, assistance of counsel, etc.), and that the delinquency procedures used against the plaintiffs were not authorized by the 1967 Military Selective Service Act.

Burning draft cards became a common form of anti-Vietnam War protest. In response, Congress passed a law on August 30, 1965 making it a crime to burn one’s draft card. David Miller is believed to be the first person to publicly burn his card on October 15, 1965. The Supreme Court, in a decision that surprised and disappointed civil libertarians, upheld the anti-draft card burning law on May 27, 1968, in O’Brien v. United States.

Learn about the anti-Vietnam War movement: Michael Foley, Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance During the Vietnam War (2003)

Read: Thomas Powers, The War at Home: Vietnam and the American people, 1964–1968 (1973)

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