The continuing ERA saga

[Excerpted from the March 2024 issue of The Voter.]

According to staunch supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) as the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the federal government has sidestepped certification of the ERA even though 38 states, the required three-fourths majority, have ratified. However, the backstory to this position is complicated. Adding to the confusion, more than 80 percent of men and women in the United States believe the U.S. Constitution already guarantees equal rights, according to national data.

At the core of the ERA controversy over certification is the 1982 deadline Congress set for states to ratify the ERA. Thirty-five states ratified the ERA prior to the deadline, three fewer than the three-fourths required by the Constitution. More than 3 decades after the deadline, Nevada, Illinois, and Virginia became the final states needed for full ratification. ERA supporters say the deadline is meaningless because it appears in the ERA Preamble (or proposing clause), not in the ERA Articles. Further complicating matters, five states that had ratified the ERA passed resolutions to rescind, or revoke, their ratifications. However, there doesn’t appear to be a recognized process for rescinding. Close to her death, according to the Atlantic magazine, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a longtime cheerleader for women’s rights and, in particular, the ERA, told Georgetown Law School students, “I would like to see a new beginning. I’d like it to start over,” referring to ERA enabling legislation and the ratification process.

Women nationwide have mobilized to become a unified bloc in favor of certifying the ERA now, arguing that states ratified the ERA based on the Articles, not the Preamble. LWVAAC recently joined the national ERA Coalition, along with the LWVMD and LWVUS and approximately 300 other organizations, to help push the ERA across the finish line, one way or another. The LWV believes the root cause of inequality must be addressed by amending the U.S. Constitution. Even though women have gained the right to vote, they continue to battle systematic discrimination in the form of unequal pay, workplace harassment, pregnancy discrimination, domestic violence, limited access to comprehensive health care, and more. The ERA would elevate the standards by which the courts scrutinize sex-based discrimination, protect against the rollback of rights, and pave the way for further legislative progress towards sex and gender equality.

A coalition of U.S. Representatives recently introduced legislation to affirm the validity of the ERA's ratification and remove the time limit. Rallies to support the legislation have been well attended by members of our nation’s most notable women’s rights groups, including a young cohort of women who want to make their own reproductive and gender-related decisions.

To demonstrate additional support for the cause, the Capitol Hill coalition has asked states that have ratified the ERA to reaffirm their commitments to having equal rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. In Maryland, the Women’s Legislative Caucus sponsored SJ1, a joint resolution reaffirming Maryland’s ratification of the ERA to be shared with Congress. The Maryland’s Women’s Legislative Caucus held a rally at the Maryland state house in support of SJ1. Maryland’s Lt. Governor Aruna Miller and Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson were among high-level speakers who touted the validity of the ratified ERA and the importance of the reaffirming legislation as a signal to Congress to act on the ERA. Rally supporters represented national, state, and local organizations with an array of pro ERA posters and banners. Several LWVAAC members joined the rally to show support for the ERA and Maryland’s stance. The Maryland General Assembly passed SJ1 in May 2024.

Justice Ginsburg had it right, the ERA situation is messy. But history has shown us that the persistence and force of women, especially when they hold power, must never be underestimated.

MD Lt. Governor Miller leads rally of ERA supporters. (photo by K. Larrabee)

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