On May 30, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. You probably have questions.
Didn’t the E.R.A. die in the ’80s?
Congress, which overwhelmingly approved the Equal Rights Amendment on March 22, 1972, set a seven-year deadline for three-quarters of the states to ratify it. The deadline was later extended to 1982 but that deadline passed with only 35 states on board. They needed 38.
More about that in a moment. But first …
What would the amendment do?
The proposed amendment has three sections but the first is the main clause: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
In 1972, supporters believed the amendment would invalidate widespread discrimination, including laws that restricted a woman’s right to buy or sell property and employers’ policies that denied unemployment compensation to pregnant workers.
What is the origin of the E.R.A.?
It started with Alice Paul, a pioneering women’s rights activist in the United States who relentlessly fought for equal rights and helped lead the battle for women’s suffrage. She was even forcibly fed in jail after she went on a hunger strike. After she worked to push through the 19th Amendment in 1920, which allowed women to vote, she waged a larger battle for equality for women in everything. She wrote the first draft of what became the Equal Rights Amendment.
Who fought it in the ’70s and ’80s?
Some of the most vocal opponents were women, notably Phyllis Schlafly, an influential conservative activist who warned that the amendment would backfire on women. They would be drafted by the U.S. military to fight on the front lines in wars, she said, and forced to use unisex restrooms.
A poll in 1982 found that a majority of Americans supported the Equal Rights Amendment, but Ms. Schlafly’s opposition was effective at the state level.
Don’t men and women already have equal rights?
There are more protections against discrimination based on sex and gender today than there were in 1972. Many states have also approved their own versions of the E.R.A. into their constitutions. But supporters of a federal approach say that broad, inclusive protection could only come through the Equal Rights Amendment, which would cover all United States citizens against sex discrimination.
What brought the E.R.A. back to life?
Something unexpected happened with a different amendment in 1992.
First, some history: Six months after the Constitution went into effect, James Madison offered 17 amendments to the founding document. Congress ultimately approved 12. By 1791, the states had ratified the first 10, which became known as the Bill of Rights.
One of Madison’s amendments continued to slowly work its way through the states more than 200 years after congressional approval. In May 1992, Michigan became the 38th state to ratify, making it the 27th Amendment, which says that salary increases for members of Congress do not go into effect until the term after they were approved.
Supporters of the E.R.A. saw this happen and thought: Wait, why did our amendment have a deadline? Let’s push for more states to ratify it and then see what happens.
President Trump and #MeToo also helped.
You probably know this part: The election of President Trump in 2016, and the defeat of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first woman nominated for president by a major party, galvanized many American women. Hundreds of thousands of women marched in protest in Washington and other cities around the world a day after he took office in 2017.
Then came the revelations that coalesced into the #MeToo movement, as new reports revealed widespread accusations of sexual misconduct against powerful men like Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and the producer Harvey Weinstein. Many ordinary and famous women said they, too, had experienced harassment, abuse and discrimination.
All of this breathed new life into the Equal Rights Amendment movement.
How many more states need to ratify it?
In theory, just one. But perhaps not, because of the missed deadline.
In 1972, supporters thought the amendment would be ratified almost overnight. The Hawaii State Legislature did so 32 minutes after Congress approved it. But it drew opposition in other places, and only 35 states in total ratified it by the 1982 deadline. (To ratify an amendment, state lawmakers must approve it within the same legislative session.)
Then last year, Nevada ratified it, followed by Illinois on May 30.
What happens if 38 states ratify the E.R.A.?
Expect a legal showdown, intense lobbying and constitutional fireworks.
Supporters say that the 27th Amendment shows that Congress should not have imposed a deadline on the E.R.A. Since 1992, they have argued there are several ways to make the amendment viable, which they wrapped into something called the “three-state strategy” before the votes in Nevada and Illinois. There are 13 possibilities for the final state: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia.
After that, the organizers would lobby Congress to recognize the 38 total ratifications. How would that work? A 2013 report by the Congressional Research Service, a policy research branch, said that Congress could simply vote to change the old deadline.
It could also pass a brand-new amendment, which would most likely require states to ratify the E.R.A. again.
Source: The New York Times