One of the quirks of US law is that qualified applicants can enlist at the age of 17 provided they have the signed consent of their parents or legal guardians.
A couple of towns in California, apparently having never read the Constitution, passed local ordinances prohibiting any recruitment effort around minors.
A panel of the 9th Circuit Court upheld an lower court’s ruling that the laws were unconstitutional.
Politically, I’m conservative and federalist. The federal government has assumed far too much power to itself, at the expense of state and local governments. As a rule of thumb, anything that limits the power of the federal government is worthy of review. But like every rule of thumb, there are exceptions. In this case, Congress has clearly been given the power to recruit soldiers, and to provide for the laws and regulations that specify who may be recruited:
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
Quite clearly, Congress has the power to raise armies, and to regulate them. And the panel of the 9th Circuit recognized this:
The decision by a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said ordinances adopted by the Northern California cities of Eureka and Arcata were unconstitutional because they sought to control federal government activities.
“The states have no power to retard, impede, burden, or in any manner control, the operations of the constitutional laws enacted by Congress to carry into execution the powers vested in the general government,” the judges said.
I find myself most annoyed with the local governments that passed these laws in the first place. Either they are composed of stunningly stupid people (always a real possibility), or they knew all along that what they were proposing was unconstitutional. I’m sure they cloaked themselves in the mantle of righteousness when enacting these laws, and said it was “for the children.” But how can you claim righteousness when you are knowingly abusing the supreme law of the land? It is no better for the local government to assume the role of nanny than the federal government. Minors cannot enlist in any service without the written, informed consent of the parents. What if there are residents of these towns with a strong family history of military service? Does the local government have the power, the right, to deny those families access to information and assistance in the recruiting process?
As a practical matter, it’s a relatively minor thing. I think I only enlisted one minor in my years as a recruiter, and by the time they entered active duty after graduation, he had reached his majority. High school seniors aren’t the target market for recruiters, recent graduates are.
But I’m glad the federal government didn’t let this small case slide. We currently have an all volunteer army. More accurately, it’s an all recruited army. And it has consistently enlisted very high quality recruits. The very people the Army wants to recruit are also very attractive to colleges and other employers. Recruiting is a difficult enough mission as it is. There’s no reason to add to the recruiter’s burden.