Opposing the Combat Exclusion for Women

Munger, Tolles & Olson, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Northern California are representing four servicewomen and the Service Women’s Action Network in challenging the Defense Department’s policy barring women from serving in – or even applying for – many tens of thousands of combat-related positions. The plaintiffs allege that this “combat exclusion policy” violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. See Hegar v. Hagel, filed November 27, 2012 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

All four of the individual plaintiffs in Hegar v. Hagel served in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Two were awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded in the course of their deployments. Two were awarded medals in recognition of their performance while in active engagement in combat zones. One plaintiff earned a Distinguished Flying Cross with a Valor device for extraordinary achievement and heroism. She engaged in direct ground fire with the enemy after her helicopter was shot down over Afghanistan and she was wounded. Despite their service to their country, the plaintiffs were not allowed to join combat units in any official capacity.

On January 24, 2013, a week before the government’s answer to the complaint was due, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the revocation of the combat exclusion policy. Despite this initial development, the lawsuit remains very much alive because the Department of Defense continues to bar all women (solely because of their gender and regardless of their qualifications) from serving in or applying for many tens of thousands of combat-related positions. As alleged in an amended complaint filed on October 31, 2013, the Department of Defense’s recently announced “implementation plans” for the integration of servicewomen are woefully inadequate and appear likely to perpetuate, rather than eliminate, gender discrimination in the military.