What is the ERA?
The ERA is an amendment to the United States Constitution that would guarantee equal rights to all Americans, regardless of sex. The ERA would provide a fundamental and universal legal remedy against discrimination for both women and men.
A little Herstory
In 1923, a young suffragist by the name of Alice Paul proposed the Equal Rights Amendment. While the 19th amendment had been ratified just three years earlier, she realized "the vote" just wasn't enough. It did not give women "equal justice under law." The ERA was written to do just that.
The ERA has been proposed into every Federal legislative session since, and in1940, the Republican party became the first major political party to include it in their election platform. But it wasn’t until 1972 that Congress finally passed it (by over 90%!) and sent it to the states for ratification. The vote of 3/4ths of state legislatures (38) is required to make an amendment into law.
Within the first five years, 35 state legislatures ratified. But by then a strong and well organized opposition took hold, and even though the 7-year deadline was extended to 10, on June 30th, 1982 — when the extension expired — the ERA fell three states short.
So why now?
On March 22, 2017, 45 years to the day Congress sent the ERA to the states for ratification, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify, breathing new life into the movement. Illinois followed in May of 2018. And on January 15, 2020, Virginia became the 38th.
While that number fulfills the constitutional requirement, the Archivist at the Federal Register chose not to publish the final ratification, which would have made the amendment into law. Instead, he asked the Justice Department for an opinion, and he was instructed not to publish. Lawsuits were filed and are still pending (for more, click on Virginia v Ferriero).
The conversation of equality must continue. In the 12 states that have yet to ratify, 10 are in the Deep South. This region in particular has struggled with equality well before the Constitution was even written. If we are successful in our work, South Carolina could be the first state to ratify in the Deep South, breaking the unjust mold that has held for generations. This work to ratify in the unratified states must continue.
One more reason for hope
Article V of the Constitution gives Congress broad interpretive powers over the amendment process, and questions still remain about the legitimacy of the deadline placed on the amendment. Resolutions to eliminate that deadline at the Federal level were presented in each chamber this past year. In early 2020, the House of Representatives passed HJ Res 79 (see February 2020 blog). The Senate had a similar resolution before it, SJ Res 6, within the Senate Judiciary Committee that needed only two more signatures to pass. But the chair of that committee, Senator Lindsey Graham, refused to bring it up for discussion.
Now that we're in the 2021-2022 legislative session, both chambers of Congress once again filed legislation to remove the deadline. Senate Joint Resolution 1 (S.J.Res.1) is still pending, but House Joint Resolution 17 (H.J.Res.17) passed on March 17, 2021. For an update on that action, go to the April 1, 2021 blog.
The Biden/Harris administration supports the ERA, and with majorities now in a supportive House and Senate, the hope of the Senate resolution being passed is high.
We will keep you informed.