Virginia’s Democratic landslide in the State Senate and the House of Delegates has pushed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) “over the historic finish line”, says Kate Kelly, a human rights attorney at the advocacy group, Equality Now.
The suffragist Alice Paul wrote the ERA in 1923—three years after women won the right to vote.
But the ERA died in Congress until a new wave of feminism in the 1970’s electrified the nation with the legalization of abortion, proliferation of contraception, and the creation of the National Organization of Women (NOW).
Meanwhile, Americans were glued to Norman Lear’s hit-classic “All in the Family”, making feminism a cause célèbre.
The ERA reads in part, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States of by any State on account of sex”.
Congress swiftly passed the Amendment, signed into law in 1972 by President Richard Nixon.
Phyllis Schlafly’s “Obstruction of Justice”
In order to be added to the Constitution, an Amendment needs approval by legislatures in three-fourths, or 38, of the 50 states.
While 35 states passed the ERA, three others failed to do so, after anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly argued it would legalize same-sex marriage and send women into combat, “both of which have since happened without the collapse of American civilization”, writes AZ Blue Meanie in the Blog for Arizona.
“In the face of this anti-feminist backlash, states stopped ratifying the amendment.
“But that changed,” Blue Meanie writes, “when two more states with Democratic legislative majorities—Illinois and Nevada—ratified the Amendment in the past couple of years.”
Twelve states have not ratified the ERA: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah.
The Ayes Have It in Senate Judiciary Committee
Following Virginia’s Blue rout in November, The House Judiciary Committee voted 21-11 to remove “the arbitrary time limit Senator Sam Ervin, a segregationist Democrat from North Carolina,” put on the law, which expired in 1982, Blue Meanie writes.
Linda Coberly, Chicago Managing Partner at Winston & Strawn, and honoree for Corporate Counsel’s 2019 Women Influence & Power in Law, tells American Legal News:
“The ERA would provide a tool for challenging discrimination in a variety of contexts, including law enforcement, military service, gender-based violence and harassment.
“It would ensure protections for pregnant women and mothers, and guarantee equal pay.”
Coberly points to a Federal judge in Michigan, who found a genital mutilation law to be unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause, although the practice has long been outlawed in the US.
“The ERA would provide an alternative,” Coberly concludes.
“One of the reasons we need the ERA more than ever is to ensure that no Justice on the Supreme Court can ever again say what Scalia said, that “discrimination on the basis of sex is not prohibited, “as he did in Town of Castlerock v. Jessica Gonzales, Jessica Neuwirth, president of the ERA Coalition, and one of the founders of Equality Now and author of Equal Means Equal, said in an interview.
Jessica Gonzales requested a restraining order against her estranged husband, but was denied it, resulting in the murder of her three daughters.
A 7-2 opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia found that state law did not entitle the holder of a restraining order to any specific mandatory action by the police.
Neuwirth also points to US v. Morrison, a rape case, struck down by Justice William Rehnquist, who ruled parts of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 were unconstitutional as they exceeded the powers granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause.
Arizona and Georgia: New Frontiers
AZ Blue Meanie reports that Representative Pamela Powers Hannley will pursue ERA ratification in the legislative session beginning in January.
Meanwhile, the first black Georgia Gubernatorial candidate, Stacey Abrams–who lost in the midterms to Brian Kemp, after he used his power as Secretary of State to purge African American voters from the ballet–writes in an November 19 Washington Post editorial:
“No Democratic presidential candidate has won Georgia since 1992. But over the past decade, Republican margins of victory in statewide elections have declined steadily, from eight points in the 2012 presidential election to five points in the 2016 presidential race and 1.4 points in the 2018 governor’s race.
“Any clear-eyed review of the numbers makes clear that Georgia is on the precipice of political change. Where Virginia sat a few cycles ago, Georgia sits today,” Abrams writes.