The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution which was intended to guarantee that equal rights under any federal, state, or local law could not be denied on account of sex. The ERA was originally written by Alice Paul. In 1972, it passed both houses of Congress, but failed to gain ratification before its June 30, 1982 deadline.
|“||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.
Although the Nineteenth Amendment had prohibited the denial of the right to vote because of a person's sex, Alice Paul, a suffragette 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.
|“||Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The National Woman's Party took the ERA to Congress in the 1920s, where Senator Charles Curtis and Representative Daniel R. Anthony, Jr.—both of the Republican Party 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 Congressional session 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 Republican Party included support of the ERA in its platform beginning in 1944, renewing the plank every four years until 1980. The ERA was strongly opposed by the American Federation of Labor and other labor unions, who did not want to compete with women, as well as by Eleanor Roosevelt and most New Dealers, who contended that women needed government protection that men did not. The amendment was opposed by most northern Democrats, who aligned themselves with the anti-ERA labor unions and supported by southern Democrats. Beginning in 1972, the Democrats included support of the ERA in their platform.
Representative Martha W. Griffiths of Michigan, 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. 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. The Senate version passed after an amendment proposed by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina that would exempt women from the draft failed.
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). President Richard Nixon immediately endorsed the ERA's approval.
The initial pace of state legislative ratifications was rapid during 1972 and 1973. The rate of ratification 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 its ratification and, by the end of that deadline on March 22, 1979, a total of 35 of the required 38 states had ratified it.
In 1978, the Congress passed a controversial bill by simple majority (not a two-thirds supermajority) that extended the ratification deadline by 39 months. During this disputed extension, no new states ratified or rescinded.
Here are details of the five rescissions:
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:
In Idaho v. Freeman, the United States District Court for the District of Idaho ruled that the rescissions — all of which occurred before the original 1979 ratification deadline — were valid. According to research by Professor Jules B. Gerard, professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, of the 35 legislatures that passed ratification resolutions, 24 explicitly referred to the 1979 deadline. The court also ruled that the extension of the ratification deadline was unconstitutional. The National Organization for Women appealed both rulings. In NOW v. Idaho, 459 U.S. 809 (1982), the U.S. Supreme Court declared the entire matter moot on the grounds that the 1972 ERA was dead with or without either the rescissions or the purported deadline extension.
In 1978—as the 1979 deadline approached—the 95th Congress adopted House Joint Resolution No. 638 (H. J. Res. 638), by Representative Elizabeth Holtzman of New York, which purported to extend the ERA's ratification deadline to June 30, 1982. H. J. Res. 638 received less than two-thirds of the vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate; for that reason, it was deemed necessary by ERA supporters that H. J. Res. 638 be transmitted to then President Jimmy Carter for signature as a safety precaution. Carter signed the joint resolution, though he questioned 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, but Illinois required a 3/5 majority on constitutional amendments and so the measure failed by 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 ratified the ERA, the amendment would still have been two states short of the required 38 (or seven states short, if the rescissions are valid).
On December 23, 1981, a United States District Court ruled 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 case was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. The United States Solicitor General claimed that the required number of states (38) had not ratified the amendment even if the deadline extension and the rescissions were valid, and that "the Amendment has failed of adoption no matter what the resolution of the legal issues presented here." The Supreme Court agreed and ordered the case dismissed as moot on October 4, 1982, thereby recognizing that the 1972 ERA had failed to win ratification, but did not issue a ruling on the merits of the either the deadline extension issue or the rescission issue in this case.
The political momentum changed during 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 of the ERA was Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative Republican. According to her, the ERA would have granted more power to the Congress and to the federal courts.
Twenty-one states have a version of the ERA in their state constitutions. Sixteen of those states ratified the federal amendment, while five did not.
The three-state strategy is an argument made by some ERA supporters that the earlier 35 state ratifications are still valid and therefore only three more are needed in order to add the ERA to the Constitution, without Congress resubmitting it to state lawmakers. Since 1994, proponents of the three-state strategy have promoted ratification resolutions in the legislatures of most of the 15 states that never ratified the ERA approved by Congress in 1972. These attempts have met stiff resistance—some opponents characterize the measures as "resurrection resolutions" -- and no legislature has approved one.
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." Early the following year, Representative Robert E. Andrews, Democrat from New Jersey, introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives to require that "when the legislatures of an additional three states ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, the House of Representatives shall take any legislative action necessary to verify the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment as a part of the Constitution." No action was taken on the resolution.
An article by three law students, published in the William and Mary Journal of Women and the Law in 1997 explained a legal rationale for the "three-state strategy." It argued that:
The article further reasoned that because Article V of the Constitution gives the Congress the power to propose amendments to the Constitution—and including changing aspects of the ratification process itself— that if and when three additional states ratify the ERA, the Congress has the power to deem the ERA properly ratified and duly added to the Constitution.
In 1996, the Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service issued a report that said, "There is no precedent for Congress promulgating an amendment based on state ratifications adopted after a ratification deadline has expired. However, proponents of this course cite as possible precedent the ratification activity of the states regarding the 27th Amendment... proponents of the ERA might wish to adopt a strategy of urging its ratification by state legislatures because their actions might prompt this or a future Congress to proclaim the amendment had been ratified." CRS stressed that it "takes no position on any of the issues."
On July 7, 2009, at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol to announce the reintroduction of the ERA in Congress, activists supporting the three-state strategy distributed a flyer (hosted by the NRLC) opposing reintroduction, saying "this is not the time to start over and ignore the work ERA advocates have already done."
Opponents of the three-state strategy point out that the 1789 resolution proposing what is known today as the Twenty-seventh Amendment ("Madison Amendment"), dealing with congressional pay raises, did not contain a deadline for ratification. This amendment was ratified in 1992, more than 202 years after its passage by Congress.
The amendment has been reintroduced every year since 1982. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) championed it in the Senate during the 99th through the 110th Congress. Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) has sponsored it since the 105th Congress.
On March 27, 2007, new resolutions were introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate by Senator Kennedy, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Representative Maloney, Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and others. They contain the traditional ERA language, but this time with no deadline attached. The Congressional sponsors referred to the new resolutions as the "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 gender neutral "Equal Rights Amendment."
On July 21, 2009, Representative Maloney introduced the ERA in the House of Representatives as House Joint Resolution 61 (H.J.Res. 61). H.J.Res. 61 is identical to the ERA which was submitted to the states for ratification in 1972, except that H.J.Res. 61 does not contain a ratification time limit. At a press conference that day outside the U.S. Capitol, Terry O'Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, called for a floor vote on the resolution during the current Congress.
It would not make much sense for Congress to begin the entire constitutional amendment process over again from square one, if the identical language really was still pending and available for ratification before the state legislatures.
The letter also says that NRLC opposes H.J.Res. 61, unless it is amended to be neutral toward abortion, and that NRLC "will include the roll call on passage in its scorecard of key pro-life roll calls of the 111th Congress."
One criticism of the ERA was that it would have been superfluous, claiming it would not have provided women with any more rights than they already have under the Constitution. According to a 1986 report of the Eagle Forum, "the ERA advocates were unable to show any way that ERA would benefit women or end any discrimination against them" arguing "that women already enjoy every constitutional right that men enjoy and have enjoyed equal employment opportunity since 1964."
Another criticism of the ERA was that its passage would have had far-reaching implications, obliterating traditional distinctions between the sexes. According to this criticism, women would be required to register for the draft and would have to serve in combat, just as men must. Also according to this criticism, the ERA would have also removed laws that specially protect women, such as labor laws in heavy industry. Some women in the 1970s feared that passage of the ERA would prevent them from being favored for alimony and custody in divorce cases.
Pre-1960s proponents of the ERA consisted of a small group of women interested in “the formal legal and property rights most relevant for women of their standing.” Women in the law and medical professions, as well as members of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women, collaborated with the National Woman's Party in support of the ERA. These highly educated women did not share the same interests as the working class women who opposed the ERA. They were interested in prohibiting discrimination in the elite male professions in which they were employed. Opponents of the ERA, employed in the industrial sector, feared the passage of the amendment would nullify protective labor laws for women. Members of the Women's Trade Union League put immense effort into fighting the ERA in an effort to preserve their hard-fought-for legal protections.
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 Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, which read, "Nothing in this Article shall be construed to grant, secure, or deny any right relating to abortion or the funding thereof." Neither House of the 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 pro-life 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.
In its ruling, the court adopted the construction of the ERA urged in the case by the NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (currently the Center for Reproductive Rights), and the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund. The doctrine that the ERA language invalidates limitations on tax-funded abortion was also supported in briefs filed by the state Women's Bar Association, Public Health Association, and League of Women Voters. This ruling is now often cited by pro-life groups in debates over ERAs in Congress and various legislatures.
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Proposed March, 1972 (failed)
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There have been over ten thousand attempts to amend the United
States Constitution, but only 27 attempts have succeeded.
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.
The Equal Rights Amendment was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution in the 1970s and 1980s. It would have given men and women full equality under the law. It passed both houses of Congress after the National Organization for Women protested outside the United States Senate. People also opposed it because women were already becoming equal in most areas, and women did not want to be drafted into the Vietnam War. Though 35 states ratified it, the amendment did not pass (38 were needed). Most of the states that did not ratify it were in the Southern United States, which is the most conservative and religious part of the country.