What is the Equal Rights Amendment and Why Does It Matter?
By Laura Rainsford
The ERA would ensure that people who face discrimination on the basis of sex are finally given full and equal standing under the law. It would enable those who experience sexual violence, workplace harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and unequal pay to have more extensive legal protections and recourse.
The Federal Equal Rights Amendment
· Section 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
· Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
· Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
A Brief History of the ERA
Article 5 of the U.S. Constitution requires approval by two-thirds of both chambers of Congress and ratification by three-fourths (38) of the states. In 1971 and 1972, the House and Senate (respectively) approved the Equal Rights Amendment in overwhelming bipartisan votes. While members of Congress were able to attach an arbitrary timeline for full ratification of seven years, in 1971 both houses of Congress extended the deadline to 1982.
Originally, the ERA was supported by many organizations and both political parties. However, in the late 1970’s Republicans rescinded their previous support and vowed to fight against the ERA. Still, Democrats, the National Organization for Women, and other groups fought on. Most recently:
- In 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA. The Amendment had now reached each milestone for ratification.
- Attorney General William Barr under Trump then blocked the National Archives from certifying the amendment (the final step) in a 38-page opinion stating that the timeline was not met and that Congress should not have had the power to revise the timeline. In 2022, the Office of Legal Counsel called Barr’s opinion into question but failed to reverse it.
- Also in 2022, the House has twice voted in support of lifting the timeline (which would enable the ERA to take effect based on current ratification status). However, Republicans have used the filibuster to block the measure in the Senate.
- Many state attorneys general, along with over 200 women's rights and justice organizations, top constitutional law experts, and 86 major corporations have attempted to sue to finally publish the now-ratified Equal Rights Amendment. However, these suits have all been dismissed based on the timeline issue.
(Sources: Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Women’s Equality is *Still* Not Guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, Chronology of the Equal Rights Amendment, 1923-1996, The 19th News)
What Can We Do?
- Vote! Elect Democrats up and down the ballot. Remove the stranglehold Senate Republicans have on advancement of the Amendment.
- Email your representatives in Congress, Senator Schumer, and President Biden encouraging them to ensure the Amendment is certified.
- Post to social media.
- Donate and support:
Columbia Law School Center for Gender & Sexuality Law: https://gender-sexuality.law.columbia.edu/content/era-project
Ms. Magazine: https://msmagazine.com/
Alice Paul Institute ERA Project: https://www.equalrightsamendment.org/
The Young People’s Abortion Justice Occupation (for the ERA): https://summit.generationratify.org/