Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution intended to guarantee equal rights under the law for Americans regardless of sex. Amendments can be approved according to the process in Article V of the Constitution. The final deadline for approving the ERA passed in either 1979 or 1982—depending upon one's view of a controversial extension of the ratification time constraint. In the intervening years, public discussion on the ERA has been greatly reduced, though the proposal has been reintroduced in every Congress since 1982.
In the current 110th Congress, the "Equal Rights Amendment" has been offered in the Senate as S.J. Res. 10 by Democrat Sen. Edward Kennedy, MA, lead sponsor, and in the House of Representatives as H.J. Res. 40 with Democrat Representative Carolyn Maloney, NY, as lead sponsor.

Text of the ERA

History of the ERA
Although the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment had guaranteed American women's right to vote, Alice Paul, a suffragist leader, argued that this right alone would not end remaining vestiges of legal discrimination based upon sex. In 1923, Paul drafted the Equal Rights Amendment and presented it as the "Lucretia Mott Amendment" at the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the 1848 Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments.
The National Women's Party took the ERA to Congress in the 1920s, where Sen. Charles Curtis and Rep. Daniel R. Anthony, Jr.—both Republicans and both from Kansas—introduced it for the first time as Senate Joint Resolution No. 21 on December 10, 1923, and as House Joint Resolution No. 75 on December 13, 1923, respectively. Though the ERA was introduced in every session of Congress between 1923 and 1970, it almost never reached the floor of either the Senate or the House for a vote—instead, it was usually "bottled up" in committee. Exceptions occurred in 1946, when it was defeated in the Senate by a vote of 38 to 35, and in 1950, when it was passed by the Senate in a modified form unacceptable to its supporters. The ERA was strongly opposed by the American Federation of Labor and other labor unions as well as by Eleanor Roosevelt and most New Dealers, who contended that women needed government help and should not be forced into the workplace to compete with men.
Representative Martha W. Griffiths of Michigan, however, achieved success on Capitol Hill with her House Joint Resolution No. 208, which was adopted by the House on October 12, 1971, with a vote of 354 yeas, 24 nays and 51 not voting (117 Congressional Record 35815). Griffiths' joint resolution was then adopted by the Senate on March 22, 1972, with a vote of 84 yeas, 8 nays and 7 not voting (118 Congressional Record 9598). And with that, the ERA was finally presented by the 92nd Congress to the state legislatures for ratification, as Article V of the Constitution prescribes, with a seven-year deadline for ratification by the required three-quarters of the legislatures (38 legislatures).
The national debate on the ERA has largely subsided, in part because of expanded interpretations of existing statutes and constitutional provisions which have afforded more equal legal treatment of men and women. In Congress, supporters of the ERA have re-introduced the amendment in Congress [1] every term since 1982 without success.
On March 27, 2007, new resolutions were introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate as as H.J. Res. 40 and S.J. Res. 10, respectively. They contain the traditional ERA language, but this time with no deadline attached. The congressional sponsors referred to the new resolutions by the name "Women's Equality Amendment," but this title does not appear in the resolutions, and some groups backing the proposals continue to refer to them as the "Equal Right Amendment."

History in Congress
The initial pace of state legislative ratifications was rapid during 1972 and 1973, but then slowed considerably with only three ratifications during 1974, just one in 1975, none at all in 1976, and only one in 1977. The 92nd Congress, in proposing the ERA, had set a seven-year time limit for the Amendment's ratification, and by the end of that deadline on March 22, 1979, a total of 35 of the required 38 states had ratified it. However, five of these 35 states withdrew their ratifications before the deadline arrived. In 1981, the only court to consider the issue ruled that these rescissions were valid. (Idaho v. Freeman, 1981, 459 U.S. 809) Thus, in the view of many (but not all) legal scholars, the 1972 ERA died in 1978, with only 30 of the necessary 38 state ratifications.
However, in 1978, Congress passed a controversial bill, by majority votes (not two-thirds votes), that purported to extend the ratification deadline for 39 months. During this disputed "extension," no new states ratified or rescinded. The only federal court to even consider the issue ruled that this ex post facto extension was unconstitutional. (Idaho v. Freeman, 1981, 459 U.S. 809)
The National Organization for Women attempted to appeal the U.S. district court holdings (in Idaho v. Freeman) that the rescissions were valid and the time extension was unconstitutional, but in 1982 the U.S. Supreme Court declared the entire matter moot, on grounds that the 1972 ERA was dead with or without the rescissions and with or without the purported deadline extension.
As previously noted, five of the 35 states which ratified the ERA rescinded their ratifications before the original 1979 deadline. (Technically, in South Dakota, one of the five, the legislature passed a measure that said its assent would last only until March 22, 1979.)
Here are details on the five rescissions:
Some law professors believe that a state legislature cannot rescind its prior ratification of a proposed Federal constitutional amendment. However, the U.S. District Court for Idaho held, in Idaho v. Freeman, that the rescissions -- all of which occurred before the original 1978 ratification deadline -- were valid. And, according to research by Prof. Jules B. Gerard, professor of law at Washington University, of the 35 legislatures that passed ratification resolutions, 24 explicitly referred to the 1978 deadline. (Letter to House Judiciary Committee, June 14, 1978)
At various times, in eight of the 15 non-ratifying states, at least one chamber of the legislature approved the ERA, those eight states being:

  • (1) Idaho which ratified the ERA on March 24, 1972, by approving Senate Joint Resolution No. 133, and which then adopted House Concurrent Resolution No. 10 on February 8, 1977, to rescind that ratification.
    (2) Kentucky which ratified the ERA on June 26, 1972, by approving House (Joint) Resolution No. 2, and which then adopted House (Joint) Resolution No. 20 on March 17, 1978, to rescind that ratification; there is some speculation about Kentucky's rescission in that the rescinding resolution was vetoed by the Lieutenant Governor who was acting as Governor in the Governor's absence. However, the U.S. Constitution provides no role for a governor (nor for the President of the United States) in the constitutional amendment process.
    (3) Nebraska which ratified the ERA on March 29, 1972, by approving the erroneously-worded Legislative Resolution No. 83 and then approving the correctly-worded Legislative Resolution No. 86; Nebraska lawmakers then adopted Legislative Resolution No. 9 on March 15, 1973, to rescind only the aforementioned Legislative Resolution No. 83—this could mean that Nebraska remains officially in the "ratified" column.
    (4) Tennessee which ratified the ERA on April 4, 1972, by approving House Joint Resolution No. 371, and which then adopted Senate Joint Resolution No. 29 on April 23, 1974, to rescind that ratification.
    (5) South Dakota, where lawmakers ratified the ERA on February 5, 1973, by approving Senate Joint Resolution No. 1; then South Dakota legislators adopted Senate Joint Resolution No. 2 on March 1, 1979, stipulating that the ERA's opportunity for ratification—by any state of the Union—would expire on March 22, 1979; furthermore, Senate Joint Resolution No. 2 made clear that South Dakota's own ratification of the ERA would only be valid up until March 22, 1979, and that any activities transpiring after that date would be considered by South Dakota to be null and void.

    • (1) Florida whose House of Representatives voted to ratify the ERA on March 24, 1972, with a tally of 91 to 4; a second time on April 10, 1975, with a tally of 62 to 58; a third time on May 17, 1979, with a tally of 66 to 53; and a fourth time on June 21, 1982, with a tally of 60 to 58.
      (2) Illinois whose Senate voted to ratify the ERA in May of 1972, with a tally of 30 to 21; and whose House of Representatives voted to ratify the ERA on May 1, 1975, with a tally of 113 to 62; and again on May 21, 2003, with a tally of 76 to 41. At various times, votes were conducted in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly on the question of ratifying the ERA and while most members voted in favor of ratification, the result would often be less than the three-fifths supermajority vote—a requirement that existed in Illinois when those votes were cast.
      (3) Louisiana whose Senate voted to ratify the ERA on June 7, 1972, with a tally of 25 to 13.
      (4) Missouri whose House of Representatives voted to ratify the ERA on February 7, 1975, with a tally of 82 to 75.
      (5) Nevada whose Assembly voted to ratify the ERA on February 17, 1975, with a tally of 27 to 13; and whose Senate voted to ratify the ERA on February 8, 1977, with a tally of 11 to 10.
      (6) North Carolina whose House of Representatives voted to ratify the ERA on February 9, 1977, with a tally of 61 to 55.
      (7) Oklahoma whose Senate voted to ratify the ERA on March 23, 1972, by a voice vote.
      (8) South Carolina whose House of Representatives voted to ratify the ERA on March 22, 1972, with a tally of 83 to zero. Mixed reception in state legislature
      In 1978—as the 1979 deadline approached—the 95th Congress adopted House Joint Resolution No. 638, by Representative Elizabeth Holtzman of New York, which purported to extend the ERA's ratification deadline to June 30, 1982 (Volume 92, United States Statutes At Large, page 3799). It should be noted that House Joint Resolution No. 638 received fewer than a two-thirds vote in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. For that reason, it was deemed necessary by ERA supporters that House Joint Resolution No. 638 be transmitted to then-President Jimmy Carter for signature as a safety precaution. Carter did sign the joint resolution, although questioning—on procedural grounds—the propriety of his doing so.
      No additional states ratified the ERA during that extra period of slightly more than three years. On June 18, 1980, a resolution in the Illinois House of Representatives resulted in a vote of 102-71 in favor. However, Illinois required a 3/5ths majority on constitutional amendments, and the measure failed by only five votes. In fact, the only occurrence favorable to the ERA between the original deadline of March 22, 1979, and the revised June 30, 1982, expiration date was—as noted earlier—its approval by the Florida House of Representatives on June 21, 1982. In the final week before the deadline, that ratifying resolution was defeated in the Florida Senate by a vote of 16 yeas and 22 nays. Even if Florida had become the 36th state to ratify the ERA, the amendment would still have been two states short of the required 38 (or seven states short, if rescissions are valid).
      On December 23, 1981, a United States District Court ruled, in the case of State of Idaho, et al. v. Freeman, et al. (529 F. Supp. 1107; judgment stayed January 25, 1982), that the ERA's deadline extension was unconstitutional and, further, that a state legislature may indeed rescind a prior ratification of a proposed amendment to the Federal Constitution. The Supreme Court thereby recognized that the 1972 ERA had failed to win ratification, but the Court did not issue a ruling on the merits of the either the deadline extension issue or the rescission issue in this case.

      Extension of ratification deadline
      The political tide changed direction in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. At the 1980 Republican National Convention in Detroit, Michigan, the Republican Party platform was amended to qualify its support for the ERA. One of the most prominent opponents to the ERA was Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative Republican. According to its critics, the ERA would have granted more power to Congress and to the Federal courts, a stance unpopular at a time when public opposition to expanded Federal government authority—and Federal judicial activism in particular—was growing. Opponents, and even most supporters of the ERA, agree that if freshly re-proposed by Congress, the ERA would have to start from scratch and would need to gain state ratifications all over again—the state approvals achieved during the 1970s being non-transferable.

      Shift in political attitudes
      Opponents of the ERA argue that its passage would have far-reaching implications, obliterating traditional distinctions between the sexes. Women, ERA opponents claim, would be required to register for the Selective Service System (the draft) just as men currently do, and would have to serve in combat just as men must. Opponents go on to assert that the ERA would also remove laws that specially protect women, such as labor laws in heavy industry.
      Especially since the early 1980s, the potential impact of the ERA on abortion-related laws has become a major factor in the ERA debate. On November 15, 1983, the majority (Democratic) leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives attempted to again pass the ERA (to begin the entire ratification process over again), under a procedure that did not allow consideration of any amendments. The ERA fell short of the required two-thirds vote (278-147) when 14 co-sponsors voted against it, many of them insisting on the need for an "abortion-neutral" amendment proposed by Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner, which read, "Nothing in this Article [the ERA] shall be construed to grant, secure, or deny any right relating to abortion or the funding thereof." Neither house of Congress has voted on any ERA since that day.
      The ERA-abortion issue was further fueled by the use of ERAs in state constitutions in lawsuits attacking anti-abortion policies in some states. ERA-based efforts to invalidate restrictions on tax-funded abortions succeeded in Connecticut and, especially, in New Mexico. On November 25, 1998, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled 5-0 that the state ERA -- very similar to the proposed federal ERA -- prohibited the state from restricting abortion differently from "medically necessary procedures" sought by men, and the court ordered the state to pay for abortions under the state's Medicaid program.
      Other critics have argued that the courts could rule that the ERA would mandate the recognition of same-sex marriage. They point to various court decisions, including a Hawaii Supreme Court decision in 1993, a Baltimore, Maryland circuit court decision in January 2006, the Massachusetts ruling for same-sex marriage in 2003, and to a decision by a California trial court in March 2005, all of which used state bans on sex discrimination as partial justification for the rulings.
      Critics also maintain that the ERA would require the integration of single-sex schools, sports teams or even restrooms—they point to a decision by a court in the State of Washington which ordered a fraternal civic organization to admit women, based upon the ERA within its state constitution. Finally, some opponents of the ERA contend that the amendment simply is not necessary, and that other provisions of the Constitution—and various rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and lower federal courts—provide sufficient support for equal rights for both genders.
      Some supporters of the ERA characterize some of the opponents' arguments as "scare tactics," or as overstating the changes designed that the ERA would impose in specific areas of the law. For instance, ERA advocates argue that the assertion that the ERA would require women to register for the draft ignores the fact that, under Article I of the Constitution, Congress has always had the power to draft women. Opponents respond that the status quo, in which Congress may draft women—but has chosen not to—is different from requiring that any draft apply equally to men and women.

      Criticism of the ERA
      The report, entitled Sex Bias in the U.S. Code, co-authored by Ruth Bader Ginsburg (and sixteen other individuals under the supervision of a government attorney), before Ginsburg became a federal judge, and published in 1977 by the United States Commission on Civil Rights, sought to show how the proposed ERA (for which Ginsburg was a strong advocate) would change Federal laws to make them gender-neutral and to "eliminate sex-discriminatory provisions."

      "Sex Bias in the U.S. Code"
      Some ERA supporters argue that the earlier 35 state ratifications are still valid and therefore only three more would amend the ERA to the Constitution, without Congress resubmitting it to state lawmakers. This idea is called the "three-state strategy".
      The three-state strategy was publicly unveiled at a press conference held in Washington, D.C., in December, 1993. According to an Associated Press report, "a coalition of women's groups," operating under the name "ERA Summit," planned "to ask Congress to nullify 1982 deadline for ratification.". Equal Rights Amendment Three-state strategy

      Alternatives to the ERA
      Despite the ERA's failure at ratification, many of its goals have otherwise been achieved through judicial interpretations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The successes of feminism in altering both the culture and politics of the United States since the 1970s, together with the significant inclusion of women in many fields once traditionally dominated by men, have dampened much of the political momentum that once propelled the ERA.

      Further Reading

      Unsuccessful attempts to amend the U.S. Constitution
      List of amendments to the United States Constitution
      List of proposed amendments to the United States Constitution
      Reproductive rights
      Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
      Women's right to know
      Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality
      Equal pay for women
      Feminist history in the United States
      Feminist studies
      History of feminism
      List of feminism topics
      List of notable feminists
      Older Women's League

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