The path forward on the Equal Rights Amendment has never been clearer. With just one more state needed to ratify the amendment, our country is closer than ever to ensuring that equal rights, regardless of sex or gender, is guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.
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 1 of the Equal Rights Amendment
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was originally passed by Congress in 1972 and went to states for final ratification. Since that time 37 states have approved the amendment for inclusion in the U.S. Constitution. Ratification by Nevada and Illinois, in 2017 and 2018, respectively, leaves the country one state away from achieving the 38-state threshold for ratification. Legislation has been introduced in 11 out of the 13 states who could still take advantage of an opportunity to help ratify the ERA. And currently, North Carolina, Arizona, and Virginia are all poised to be the 38th state to ratify the amendment.
The groundswell of activity at the state level has brought Congress’ attention back to the amendment as they consider the constitutional questions around whether the inclusion of the timeline for ratification is valid. The idea of time limits on constitutional amendments is a modern congressional addition to the amendment ratification process. Prior to the twentieth century, there was no discussion of imposing a time constraint on the states’ consideration of a proposed amendment. Congress derives its power to set a time limit from its authority to designate a mode of ratification. Through the courts, Congress has a clearly established basis for its authority to extend or remove the time limit from the resolving clause of the Equal Right Amendment.
Legislation eliminating the timeline for ratification has been introduced in the form of a joint resolution in the U.S. House and Senate. In the U.S. Senate, Senators, activists, and scholars joined the ERA Coalition recently for a briefing to discuss the resolution. Senators Cardin and Murkowski are leading the effort in the Senate to move this bill forward and both spoke about the need for a constitutional right to equal rights for women in our country. As Senator Murkowski stated at the briefing, “We should never have a time limit on women’s equality.”
The League of Women Voters supports S.J. Res. 6 and H.J. Res 38, the joint resolutions eliminating the deadline for ratification of the ERA. Despite the significant legal and legislative advances that have been made in recent decades, women continue to face discrimination on the basis of sex. The symptoms of this systemic discrimination are clear in the ongoing fights against unequal pay, workplace harassment, pregnancy discrimination, domestic violence and limited access to comprehensive healthcare. It is not enough to treat the symptoms; we must address the root cause of inequality by amending the Constitution. The League will continue to work with our members, interested organizations, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill to move toward final ratification.