It’s time to pass the ERA

Monday, November 9, 2020 - 10:52am

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Design courtesy of Yassmine El-Rewini

The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced to Congress in 1923 by suffragists Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman. In 1972, it passed in Congress, but the necessary number of states failed to ratify it by the 1982 deadline. Since then, it has incited a great deal of debate on both sides of the aisle. In the revolutionary and arguably electric atmosphere we’re living in, the Equal Rights Amendment should finally be ratified and added to the Constitution. 

The Equal Rights Amendment is a proposed amendment broken down into three sections. The sections read as follows: “Section 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. Section 3: This amendment shall take effect 2 years after the date of ratification.” Supporters of the ERA argue its necessity is borne out of a lack of Constitutional interpretation of the rights of women as an identity deserving of equality even within the 14th Amendment. 

Further, the ERA is meant to clearly codify women and men as of equal class — guaranteeing “equal justice under law” on the basis of sex. Section 1 of the ERA would be the first explicit mention of “women” in the Constitution. Many who disagree with the ERA use the 14th Amendment and the Equal Pay Act to argue that it would be a superfluous, even redundant, amendment. 

This is not the case. The 14th Amendment was ratified after the Civil War and was meant to specifically address the immense racial injustice in 1868. If it had effectively acknowledged women as an equal sex, women (at least white women, considering that most women of color were not granted suffrage until decades later) would have been granted suffrage then as opposed to 52 years later with the 19th Amendment in 1920. Without the Equal Rights Amendment, current legal protections, like that of the Equal Pay Act, can theoretically be removed by a single vote. Delving even deeper, ratification of the ERA would emphasize the consideration and protection against sex-based discrimination legally. We must secure a better foundation of constitutional equality through explicitly stating the necessity of legal equity; without the ERA, this cannot happen.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation as a Supreme Court Justice was met with unease and apprehension from many pro-choice women (and men). In the already turbulent, near-apocalyptic atmosphere, the possibility that the progress made by determined feminists — such as the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — could potentially be undone is enough to pass an amendment that will protect the major advances in women’s rights. 

Despite having received ratification by the required 38 states, the ERA has been met with many legal challenges that have prevented its certification as an official part of the United States Constitution. While it gets a bit complicated the more that you attempt to untangle this political and legal conundrum, it gets boiled down to this: there are two strategies for the ratification of the ERA. The first is through the Constitutional Ratification Process in Article V of the Constitution; a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate and the House of Representatives is required before it is sent for three-fourths of state legislatures to ratify. The second mode is known as the “Three-State Strategy” which emphasizes that only three more states were needed in addition to the 35 existing ratifications that supporters argue should be deemed legally viable. 

It is imperative that we ratify this amendment. By declaring a “zero tolerance” message, the Equal Rights Amendment gives a megaphone to the millions of activists who have fought for and passed the legislation that has continued to work toward equality for all people. 

Since its inception in 1923, the ERA has remained an active component in the political conversations of equality and feminism. President-elect Joe Biden — an avid supporter of the ERA — has personally co-sponsored the ERA ratification nine times. Directly on his campaign’s website, Biden includes extensive information about his agenda for women; within this agenda, it explicitly states: “as President he will work with advocates across the country to enshrine gender equality in our Constitution” in reference to passage of the ERA. With our first female Vice President-elect Kamala Harris alongside Biden, it is time to learn more about the ERA and finally see it in our Constitution.

Jess D’Agostino can be reached at jessdag@umich.edu


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