Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Monday, June 11, 2018

Illinois Ratifies the Equal Rights Amendment

Illinois Ratifies Equal Rights Amendment Decades After Deadline

Illinois state lawmakers voted Wednesday to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment — decades after Congress’s deadline to ratify the measure expired.

The Illinois House passed the measure 72-45, the Chicago Tribune reported. The state Senate had voted in favor of ratification last month, and it does not require the support of Gov. Bruce Rauner (R).

The passage sets the stage for a possible legal battle over the amendment, since Congress’s deadline for states to ratify the amendment expired in 1982.

But supporters argue that because a 1789 amendment was ratified more than two centuries later, in 1992, the Equal Rights Amendment could still be added to the Constitution, the Tribune noted.

Congress approved the amendment in 1972. But only 35 states ratified it ahead of the deadline, three short of the number required to add it to the Constitution.

Nevada similarly ratified the Equal Rights Amendment last year after the deadline.

See also Illinois Approves Equal Rights Amendment, 36 Years after Deadline

Some critics have also questioned the necessity of such an amendment, saying federal laws have already been passed to extend equal rights to women. Stone said ratification of the amendment “would make some difference in marginal cases where the law allows discrimination today” and “lock in” many of the federal protections women have gained over the decades.

“The main reason for adopting the Equal Rights Amendment today if one could legally, constitutionally do it would be the symbolic importance of it,” Stone said. “The rejection of it is in some ways insulting. So, the symbolic importance of it is to who we are as a nation — what our aspirations are, what our values are. That in itself is an important affirmation of who we are.”

For the legal history of the ERA from beginning to end, see my chapter with TJ Boisseau, After Suffrage Comes Equal Rights? ERA as the Next Logical Step, in 100 Years of the Nineteenth Amendment: An Appraisal of Women's Political Activism (Holly J. McCammon & Lee Ann Banaszak, eds.) (Oxford Press 2018)

The ERA Coalition believes the time is ripe again for an equal rights amendment, given the next generation’s interest and recent political activity (Neuwirth 2015). In 2014 Oregon passed a state ERA referendum with 64% of the vote. Illinois and Virginia also passed state ERA laws, two states that had not previously ratified the federal ERA. Federal ERA  proponents advocate a “three-states-more” strategy, which assumes the continued validity of the prior ratifications and seeks ratification of ther required three additional states. One state, Nevada, ratified the ERA in March 2017. This extended ratification strategy is supported by the delayed the ratification of the Twenty-Seventh Amendment (salary change for Congress must take effect the following term),  as it was sent to the states for ratification in 1789, but not ratified until 1992, when the last states joined (Burroughs 2015).

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