Thursday, July 23, 2020
I'm quoted in this article on the ERA.
Hannah Hayes, 100 Years On, the ERA Rises from the Ashes, ABA Perspectives Magazine (March 2020)
n March 2017, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The move came just two months after the Women’s March on Washington drew hundreds of thousands to Washington, D.C., to protest President Donald Trump’s inauguration, as millions of women joined in simultaneous marches worldwide.
The vote also came 45 years after Congress passed the constitutional amendment, a move requiring ratification by three-fourths (38) of states before it became law. That year, 22 states immediately jumped on board; eight states ratified the ERA in 1973, followed by three states in 1974, with only two more states in 1975 and 1977.
After the decades-long gap, Nevada was followed by Illinois in 2018, and in January of this year, Virginia became the 38th state, technically making the amendment a reality. However, approval has been stalled because the amendment was introduced with a proposed two-year deadline for state ratification, and five states rescinded approval in the 45 years following their approval. Many credit the #MeToo movement and the election of President Trump with re-invigorating the women’s movement. “[Former President Barack] Obama claimed we were post-racial, but 2016 woke people up,” says Senator Pat Spearman, the democratic Nevada senator who introduced the resolution and who has since championed ratification across the country.
Others say, however, a persistent ground game that involved flipping seats and working state by state kept the amendment alive when many thought it had died a quiet death in the late 1970s. “I think the Women’s March helped inject vigor and also turned average people into activists,” says Kate Kelly, a human rights lawyer in the New York office of Equality Now, an international women’s rights organization, and a member of the national ERA Coalition. “Most people said it came out of nowhere, but people had been working on the ground in many states for many years. It just wasn’t getting any attention.”
What Took So Long?
While the Nineteenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1920, recognized women’s right to vote, it did not make women equal under the law. Further, it was only one strand of a series of demands made by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and abolitionist Lucretia Mott at the historic Seneca Falls Constitutional Convention in 1848 that included a broad list of social and civil rights, such as no-fault divorce and equal marital property rights. The Equal Rights Amendment was authored by Quaker abolitionist Alice Paul in 1923 and revised in 1943.
“Paul had a group of women lawyers from every state who analyzed the statutes in each state, and they came up with 350 statutes in 30 different areas of law where there was inequality,” says Tracy Thomas, director of the Center for Constitutional Law at the University of Akron (Ohio) School of Law.
According to Thomas, the ERA was met with opposition from the beginning. ERA advocates clashed with the labor movement, which was fighting for minimum wage and workplace safety. “The way they had been successful was by saying that women needed protection because legislators could understand that, so there was the fear that if you said the women were equal to men, nobody would get workplace protection,” Thomas explains.
Eventually, those issues faded following the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 and the rise
of the civil rights movement.