Gender and the Law Prof Blog

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Context and Meaning of the Nineteenth Amendment--Implications for Immigration, Citizenship, and Gender Equality

Amalia Kessler, Introduction to Special Issue

The centennial offers an occasion to explore the amendment’s complex and contradictory legacies, including not only its achievements, but also its limitations and failures. With important contributions by Professors Felice Batlan and Tracy A. Thomas, this thought-provoking special issue contributes to the ongoing national conversation.

Both Batlan and Thomas situate the Nineteenth Amendment within a much longer struggle for women’s equality—one that began well before the Amendment’s ratification in 1920 and that has continued to this day. While recognizing the historic significance of the Amendment’s formal guarantee that the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged . . . on account of sex,” the authors also explore how and why the Amendment’s revolutionary potential to promote meaningful equality for women was, right from the get-go, significantly constrained and undermined.***



While Batlan and Thomas focus first and foremost on the question of history—on how we should understand the Nineteenth Amendment in relation to the struggles that led to its ratification and implementation—they also raise profound and difficult questions regarding the present and future. As Batlan notes, we are now living through a period of renewed xenophobia, as our current presidential administration fuels the flames of ant-immigrant hatred and seeks to curb immigration, including not least the “chain migration” that enables family reunification. The parallels between the experiences of the families served by the Chicago Immigrants’ Protective League a century ago, as detailed by Batlan, and those we encounter in the newspapers today are striking and chilling. As we read about U.S. citizens who are wrongfully detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement—with race often used as a proxy for citizenship—it is tempting to denounce these events as un-American. But both Batlan and Thomas remind us that, sadly, we have a long tradition of differentiating between the citizenship rights of different individuals on the basis of race, gender, and class.


Thomas, in turn, highlights the important parallels between the demands for comprehensive structural reform that lay at the core of first-wave feminism and those that we see renewed today, including in the recently reenergized campaign for ratification of the ERA. Today’s calls to remake the social, legal, and political
order, she suggests, “ask[] nothing different than what women have been asking for one hundred and seventy years.” As with Batlan’s emphasis on the parallels between anti-immigrant and anti-women sentiment and legislation a century ago and our present-day environment, Thomas’s emphasis on the continuous nature
of unsatisfied feminist demands is, to say the least, sobering. But at the same time, historical memory and lineage can be empowering. To be reminded that we walk in the shoes of others who have come before is to hear the call to pick up the baton. 

Felice Batlan, "She Was Surprised and Furious": Expatriation, Suffrage, Immigration, and the Fragility of Women's Citizenship, 1907-1940,  15 Stanford J. CR & CL 315 (2020)

Tracy Thomas, More Than the Vote: The Nineteenth Amendment as Proxy for Gender Equality, 15 Stanford J. CR & CL 349 (2020)

Constitutional, Legal History | Permalink


Post a comment