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After 100 years, Senate to vote on Equal Rights Amendment

The U.S. Senate is set to vote on Thursday on a measure that could allow the Equal Rights Amendment to be added to the Constitution.

The third annual Women's March LA at Pershing Square in downtown on Jan. 19, 2019. Credit - Luke Harold, Public Domain
The third annual Women's March LA at Pershing Square in downtown on Jan. 19, 2019. Credit - Luke Harold, Public Domain

The U.S. Senate is set to vote on Thursday on a measure that could allow the Equal Rights Amendment to be added to the Constitution.

On Monday, when announcing the vote on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “In this ominous hour of American history, the Equal Rights Amendment has never been as necessary and urgent as it is today,” Schumer said in a statement

Schumer pointed out the Supreme Court’s decision last year overturning Roe v. Wade, as well as the current legal battle over the common abortion pill mifepristone, crucial for the new vote on the ERA, according to The Hill.

The vote is all but certain to fail because it would require the support of nine Republicans to reach the 60-vote threshold to advance in the Senate where Democrats hold a narrow 51-49 majority.

Days after President Joe Biden launched his reelection bid, the vote highlights how women’s rights will likely be an issue in the upcoming presidential campaign. Biden voiced his support for the ERA last year, Reuters reports.

Women’s march in January 2020. Credit – Edward Kimme, CC SA 2.0.

What is the Equal Rights Amendment?

Believe it or not, the Equal Rights Amendment was first drafted in 1923 by two leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman. The ERA was the next logical step in garnering rights for women after winning access to the ballot through the adoption of the 19th Amendment.

While the text of the amendment has changed over the years, the gist of it has remained the same. The version approved by Congress in 1972 and sent to the states reads:

“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 Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

Proposed Amendment to the Constitution

But while the ERA was first proposed in 1923, it was not until 1972 that Congress finally decided to act on the legislation. It did not help that for most of the 20th century, Congress was comprised almost entirely of men.

During that time, only 10 women served in the Senate, with no more than 2 serving at the same time. The situation was the same in the House of Representatives.

Finally, several strong-willed women, including Reps. Martha Griffiths (D-MO) and Shirley Chisholm (D-NY), decided to make the ERA a legislative priority.

They focused on Rep. Emanuel Celler (D-NY), the powerful chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who had refused to hold a hearing on the ERA for over 30 years.

Celler finally relented, and in March 1972, the amendment passed both chambers of Congress. The amendment was sent to the states, with Congress stipulating there was a seven-year deadline for its ratification.

Pro-ERA March during the 1980 Republican National Convention (Detroit, Michigan). This was the first presidential election year that the party dropped its support for the ERA in four decades. Credit – Patty Mooney, CC SA 2.0.

Within a year, 30 of the necessary 38 states acted to ratify the ERA. But then momentum slowed as conservative activists launched a campaign to stop the ERA in its tracks. They were very successful, particularly among Republicans.

After Nevada and Illinois ratified the ERA in 2017 and 2018, Virginia became the 38th state to approve the amendment in 2020, giving the legislation the necessary three-fourths of state legislatures.

However, the adoption of the amendment came nearly two decades after a 1982 deadline had expired.

Article 5 of the U.S. Constitution sets out two requirements for amendments: approval by two-thirds of both chambers of Congress and ratification by three-fourths (38) of the states. On Jan. 27, 2020, the ERA finally achieved both of these requirements, but the Trump administration blocked the certification and publication of the amendment.

So, this circuitous story finally comes to an end, and you would think that in our political climate today, particularly with the Supreme Court’s decisions, women’s rights should be a priority for all women.

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Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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