Lawmakers appeared to breathe new life into the 97-year-old Equal Rights Amendment on Thursday, when 227 House Democrats and five Republicans voted to remove a 1982 deadline for its passage.
The move opens the door for the issue to be taken up in the U.S. Senate, where Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have introduced a similar resolution. If passed, Virginia's ratification of the amendment last month -- decades after it was first sent to the states in 1972 -- could be counted as the 38th and final approval necessary to add the ERA to the U.S. Constitution.
But don't hold your breath.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has shown time and again that he has an aversion to bringing legislation to the floor (more than 300 bills passed by the House have died of neglect in the Senate). And even if he did, the Senate is controlled by Republicans, who have an aversion to granting women equal status in the Constitution -- especially if it might confer the right to make up their own minds about their health care.
A half-dozen Republican women, and one Republican man, took to the podium during an hour-long debate Thursday to decry the ERA as a sneaky way to, as Rep. Debbie Lesko of Arizona put it, "undo pro-life legislation and lead to taxpayer funded abortions."
Hey, if Republicans are willing to admit that's what it means to consider women equal to men, who are we to complain? The argument falls apart, of course, when they turn to another Republican talking point, claiming that the ERA is unnecessary because: "women's equality of rights under the law is already recognized in our Constitution in the Fifth and 14th amendments" (Ms. Lesko again).
So, to recap Lesko: Equality leads to abortion rights, and we already have equality written into the Constitution.
Looks like we don't have to worry about the abortion argument after all.
But Republicans also claim Congress doesn't have the authority to remove its own deadline (suddenly sticklers for the rules, after tossing them aside during President Trump's impeachment trial). And they point out that five of the states that originally ratified the ERA within the deadline -- Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee and South Dakota -- later voted to revoke their ratifications, which means the number of ratifying states could be counted as 33, instead of the required 38.
Whether a state can rescind ratification is open to legal interpretation. But, and it breaks our hearts to say this, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg makes a solid case that it should be considered: "If you count a latecomer on the plus side, how can you disregard states that said 'we've changed our minds?'" she said Monday at an event at Georgetown University's law school.
The 86-year-old feminist lawyer also said she'd like to see a fresh start with the ERA, which likely put the nail in the amendment's coffin. If Justice Ginsberg, who's in the liberal minority on the high court, is unlikely to find that the ERA was properly ratified in this process, there's almost no shot of five other justices coming together to find so.
And Democrats thought the worst she could do to them was die.
Here's Section 1 of the amendment, the most important part of its meager 52 words: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."
The fact that this is controversial in 2020, the year of the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote, should be mind boggling. But we're not that naive. Women earn an average of 20% less than men for the same work; they're doubted and disparaged when they dare disclose sexual harassment; and they're underrepresented in most halls of power -- including Congress.
There's no doubt discrimination persists, despite the Fifth and 14th amendments. And anyone who argues against the ERA is complicit. Unfortunately, many Republicans in Congress don't seem to care.
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