395 U.S. 185 (1969), 403, McKart v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 403
Citation:395 U.S. 185, 89 S.Ct. 1657, 23 L.Ed.2d 194
Party Name:McKart v. United States
Case Date:May 26, 1969
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 185

395 U.S. 185 (1969)

89 S.Ct. 1657, 23 L.Ed.2d 194

McKart

v.

United States

No. 403

United States Supreme Court

May 26, 1969

Argued February 27, 1969

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner had been classified IV-A (sole surviving son status). When the Selective Service Board learned of the death of petitioner's mother, it reclassified him I-A (available for military service), on the theory that the IV-A classification became improper when the "family unit" ceased to exist. Petitioner did not appeal the reclassification. Upon his failure to report as ordered for his pre-induction physical examination, he was declared a delinquent. He failed to report for induction as ordered, and was indicted for such failure and tried. His only defense was that he was improperly denied a sole surviving son exemption. The District Court held that defense unavailable because petitioner had failed to exhaust the administrative remedies provided by the Selective Service System. Petitioner was convicted, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held:

1. Petitioner was entitled to exemption from military service, as the termination of the "family unit" was not intended by Congress to warrant ending the sole surviving son exemption under § 6(o) of the Selective Service Act. Pp. 189-192.

2. Petitioner's failure to appeal his classification and his failure to report for a pre-induction physical examination do not foreclose his challenging the validity of his classification as a defense to criminal prosecution for refusal to submit to induction. Pp. 192-203.

(a) Though the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies is applied in a number of different situations, it is subject to numerous exceptions. P. 193.

(b) The exhaustion doctrine must be tailored to fit the peculiarities of the administrative system Congress created. At the heart of the Selective Service System are the local boards which register and classify those subject to the Selective Service Laws, from whose action the registrant has the right of appeal. P. 195.

(c) Although the Act, as it stood when petitioner was tried, provided that local board decisions were "final," a registrant

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charged with failure to report can raise the defense that there was "no basis in fact," for his classification. See Estep v. United States, 327 U.S. 114, 123. P. 196.

(d) This case does not involve premature resort to the courts (since all administrative remedies are now foreclosed), but failure to have utilized the particular administrative process of appeal. Pp. 196-197.

(e) When petitioner was reclassified, the statute did not require the registrant to raise all his claims before an appeal board. P. 197.

(f) Determining whether petitioner is entitled to the sole surviving son exemption (which is solely a matter of statutory interpretation) requires no particular expertise on the appeal board's part, as many Selective Service questions do, and judicial review would not be significantly aided by that kind of additional administrative decision. Pp. 197-199.

(g) Failure to require exhaustion of administrative remedies in this case will not significantly encourage registrants to bypass available administrative remedies at the risk of criminal prosecution. Pp. 199-200.

(h) Petitioner is not being prosecuted for his failure to report for physical examination, and such failure does not bar him from challenging the validity of his classification as a defense to his criminal prosecution. Falbo v. United States, 320 U.S. 549, distinguished. Pp. 201-203.

395 F.2d 906, reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner was indicted for willfully and knowingly failing to report for and submit to induction into the

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Armed Forces of the United States.1 At trial, petitioner's only defense was that he should have been exempt from military service because he was the "sole surviving son" of a family whose father had been killed in action while serving in the Armed Forces of the United States.2 The District Court held that he could not raise that defense because he had failed to exhaust the administrative remedies provided by the Selective Service System. Accordingly, petitioner was convicted and sentenced to three years' imprisonment. The Court of Appeals affirmed, with one judge dissenting. United States v. McKart, 395 F.2d 906 (C.A. 6th Cir.1968). We granted certiorari. 393 U.S. 922 (1968).

I

The facts are not in dispute. Petitioner registered with his local Selective Service board shortly after his 18th birthday, and thereafter completed his classification

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questionnaire. On that form, he indicated that he was

the sole surviving son of a family of which one or more sons or daughters were killed in action . . . while serving in the Armed Forces of the United States. . . .

On February 25, 1963, petitioner's local board placed him in Class [89 S.Ct. 1660] I-A, available for military service; he made no attempt to appeal that classification.3

On March 23, 1964, he was ordered to report for a pre-induction physical, but failed to do so. He was declared a delinquent and ordered to report for induction on May 11, 1964. He failed to report, but instead wrote a letter to his local board indicating that his moral beliefs prevented him from cooperating with the Selective Service System. The local board replied by sending petitioner the form for claiming conscientious objector status. The board also referred to petitioner's indication in his original questionnaire that he was a sole surviving son and requested further information on that subject.

On May 20, 1964, petitioner returned the blank form, stating that he did not wish to be a conscientious objector. In response to the board's request for information about his claim to be a sole surviving son, petitioner indicated that his father had been killed in World War II. The local board, after consulting the State Director, again wrote petitioner requesting more information about his father. Petitioner supplied some of the information. The local board forwarded this information to the State

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Director, who requested the local board to reopen petitioner's classification.4 The board canceled his induction order and reclassified him IV-A, the appropriate classification for a registrant exempted as a sole surviving son. Petitioner remained in that classification until February 14, 1966.

Early in 1966, the local board learned of the death of petitioner's mother. After checking with the State Director, the board returned petitioner to Class I-A. The board rested this decision on the theory that a IV-A classification became improper when petitioner's "family unit" ceased to exist on the death of his mother. Petitioner was ordered to report for a pre-induction physical. He failed to report and was declared a delinquent and ordered to report for induction. He again failed to report and, after further investigation, his criminal prosecution followed.5

II

We think it clear that petitioner was exempt from military service as a sole surviving son. The sole surviving son exemption originated in the Selective Service Act of 1948, c. 625, § 6(o), 62 Stat. 613. As originally enacted, that section provided exemption for the sole surviving son only

[w]here one or more sons or daughters of a family were killed in action . . . while

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serving in the armed forces of the United States.

[89 S.Ct. 1661] In 1964, the section was amended to extend the exemption to sole surviving sons whose fathers were killed in action. 78 Stat. 296. The section now reads in relevant part as follows:

[W]here the father or one or more sons or daughters of a family were killed in action or died in line of duty while serving in the Armed Forces . . . , the sole surviving son of such family shall not be inducted for service. . . .

50 U.S.C.App. § 456(o). There is no question that petitioner was entitled to an exemption before the death of his mother. The issue is whether her death, and the end of the immediate "family unit," ended that exemption.

We have found no cases discussing this aspect of § 6(o).6 The applicable Selective Service System Regulation, 32 CFR § 1622.40(a)(10) (1969), merely repeats the language of the statute. The System's administrative interpretations have not been uniform,7 although, in the present case, the National Director took the position that "inasmuch as there is no family, it is not believed that [petitioner] would qualify for sole surviving son status." We must, therefore, decide what is essentially a question of first impression. Our examination of the language and legislative history of § 6(o) indicates that the Selective Service System's interpretation fails to effectuate fully the purposes Congress had in mind in providing the exemption.

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The language of the statute provides only three conditions, two explicit and one implicit, upon which the exemption should terminate. The registrant may volunteer for service, a national emergency or war may be declared, or, implicitly, the registrant may cease to be the sole surviving son by the birth of a brother. The section says nothing about the continuing existence of a family unit, even though other provisions of the Selective Service laws make similar conditions explicit in other contexts.8

The argument for conditioning the exemption upon the continued existence of a family unit is based not upon the language or structure of the statute but upon certain references in the legislative history. These comments indicate that one purpose of the exemption was to provide "solace and consolation" to the remaining family members by guaranteeing the presence of the sole surviving son. See S.Rep. No. 1119, 88th Cong., 2d Sess., 3 (1964); Hearings before Subcommittee No. 1 of the...

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