Thursday, November 15, 2018
The text of the ERA is simple: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.” The language was developed by lawyer and suffrage fighter Alice Paul in 1943, although the equality amendment was first introduced in 1923.
When, under the amendment process, it was approved in 1972 by two-thirds of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, a deadline for ratification by the states was inserted—at first seven years, then extended to 10 years. The ratification fell three states short of the 38 needed, and in 1982, the ERA was declared dead.
Now, new impetus is reviving it. Two key strategies have emerged to make the ERA a reality: One approach is to gain the final three ratifications and amend the original congressional time limit; the other is to “start over” with a vote in Congress and gather 38 new state ratifications.
“All along, since 1982, there was a little hum of energy,” says lawyer Jessica Neuwirth, author of the 2015 book Equal Means Equal: Why the Time for an Equal Rights Amendment Is Now. “It went from a hum to a whisper,” Neuwirth notes, “and now it’s an ascendant line. It’s steady and it’s strengthening. Not like a roar, but a much greater awareness than there used to be.” Neuwirth is cofounder of the ERA Coalition, a D.C.-based entity that serves as a resource for more than 70 organizational members working on the issue. [http://www.eracoalition.org] ***
A “three-state strategy” aims to gather three more ratifications to add to the 35 passed from 1972–1982 and reach the magic number of 38. The concept was developed in 1992 after the Twenty-Seventh Amendment (the “Madison” amendment) on congressional pay was added to the Constitution, 203 years after it was first passed by Congress.
In May 2017, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the federal ERA, and the first since 1977. In May 2018, Illinois followed suit to become the 37th state.
For more on the history of the ERA, see my recent book chapter: Tracy Thomas & 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 McCammon & Lee Ann Banaszak eds.) (Oxford Univ. Press 2018).