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We can’t time out on the Equal Rights Amendment

First introduced in 1923, it took until 1972—nearly half a century later—for the Equal Rights Amendment to finally get approved by Congress. The Equal Rights Amendment prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, filling any gaps left open by individual laws or non-binding legal precedents. 

“When women are treated with equal dignity and respect in the workplace and the home by our institutions of government and our society at large, all the American people stand to benefit. And we know that a simple yet fundamental guarantee of equality should be welcomed, rather than feared.” — Congressman Steve Cohen, Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties

Amending the Constitution is a two-step process: the amendment must first be passed in Congress by a two-thirds vote in each chamber, and then three-fourths of the U.S. states must ratify it. Since its approval in 1972, the ERA has technically been ratified by 38 states with the 38th being Virginia in 2020, which meets the three-fourths threshold. But there is a problem.

When the Equal Rights Amendment was first approved in 1972, the deadline for the initial ratification was 1979. By 1979, the ERA had not met the three-fourths requirement and fell short by only three states, so Congress extended the deadline to 1982. Even after the 1982 deadline passed with no additional ratifications, the push to pass the ERA continued. More recently, the ERA was ratified in Nevada in 2017, in Illinois in 2018, and as previously mentioned, the 38th state to ratify it was Virginia on January 15, 2020. 

What are S.J. Res. 1 and H.J Res. 17? 

Almost forty years later, the three-fourths threshold has finally been met, yet the deadline for ratification has passed. Currently, resolutions with bipartisan support, known as S.J. Res. 1 and H.J. Res. 17, have been introduced to remove the deadline for ratification entirely so the Equal Rights Amendment can be adopted.

On Wednesday, March 17, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to remove the time limit on the ERA with a vote of 222-204 in support of H.J. Res 17. Attention is now turned to the U.S. Senate and moving S.J. Res 1 to the floor for a vote. 

What comes next? 

Even after these resolutions are hopefully passed, there are still steps that must be taken before the ERA can be added to the U.S. Constitution. First, the Office of the Federal Register (OFR) must verify that it has received the required number of authenticated ratification documents, and then a draft of a formal proclamation must be sent to the U.S. Archivist. The Archivist will add it to the U.S. Constitution, and then send it to the Justice Department for the United States Attorney General to sign.

After this, the amendment may very well still end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Five states, Nebraska, Tennessee, Idaho, Kentucky, and South Dakota, have expressed their desire to rescind their prior ratifications of the ERA, but thankfully withdrawals of ratification have no legal validity and likely won’t be accepted. 

The Future of the ERA 

By making gender-based discrimination illegal on a constitutional level, the Equal Rights Amendment would be pivotal in shaping future laws. Federal courts would have to evaluate any law that might deny access to reproductive care or contraceptives to determine if it results in the unequal treatment of women. Similarly, the passage of the ERA would establish stronger grounds for cases concerning gender discrimination in the workplace, as well as any form of gender-based violence.

The passage of the ERA affirms what Americans have unfortunately known for years: discrimination on the basis of sex exists. By adding the ERA to the Constitution, it acknowledges this reality, and in turn, makes claiming instances of gender discrimination in court much easier. Simply put, by adopting the ERA, victims would not need to show that gender-based discrimination exists before demonstrating they experienced it.

Take Action 

We need your help to pass S.J. Res. 1 in the U.S. Senate! Here are FOUR ways you can show your support:

  1. Call your U.S. Senators and tell them to vote “Yea” for S.J. Res 1
  2. Write an email to your U.S. Senators about why you support eliminating the deadline to the Equal Rights Amendment
  3. Use Twitter and Facebook to get your family and friends to advocate for S.J. Res 1 with you

Follow IGNITE on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to stay tuned for more updates on S.J. Res 1 and the ERA.  

Suggested Reading 

Pay us what we deserve: Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act

How to advocate for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Take action: the Abby Honold Act 

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