It’s been 92 years since the Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced, and 43 years since both houses of Congress approved the measure, guaranteeing equal rights under the constitution for men and women. But, almost a century after it was originally introduced, 15 states have not yet seen fit to ratify the amendment, and the deadline for ratification has long since passed.
Now, Connecticut’s Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen. Christopher Murphy have co-sponsored a bill that would remove the ratification deadline, allowing states to approve the constitutional amendment whenever they may so choose.
The original text of the amendment, written by activist Alice Paul in 1923, consists of only 23 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.”
“Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex,” Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said in 2011. “The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”
Article V of the U.S. Constitution stipulates that the supreme law of the land may only be altered when there is a two-thirds majority of Congress or, failing that, a simple majority in Congress and ratification by two-thirds of the states.
In 1972, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment with a simple majority in favor. Then-President Richard Nixon signed the measure immediately after passage, but it still required ratification, a deadline for which was set for March 22, 1979.
Hawaii was the first state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, on March 22, 1972, only 13 years after becoming a state. Connecticut was the 29th state to ratify the ERA, following Hawaii by almost a full year on March 15, 1973.
When only 35 of the necessary 38 states had officially ratified the amendment by the deadline, an extension was granted, until June 30, 1982 but, to this day, only 35 states have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.
“We cannot allow an arbitrary deadline to stand in the way of equal rights for our mothers and daughters, wives and sisters, aunts and grandmothers,” U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., said in a release earlier this month.
Cardin, along with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.Y., are the primary drivers this year behind a double-edged effort to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed.
Cardin’s measure, S.J. Res.15, is a joint resolution that would remove the ratification deadline. Menendez’s resolution, S.J. Res. 16, is a reintroduction of the Equal Rights Amendment itself, an action taken in every Congress since the extended ratification deadline in 1982.
Both resolutions have decidedly Democratic support. Menendez’s resolution has been co-sponsored by Cardin, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, in addition to Blumenthal, all of whom are Democrats.
Cardin’s resolution has the support of a bevy of Democrats: Menendez, Blumenthal and Murphy, as well as Boxer, Gillibrand, Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich, Hawaii Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey, Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders, New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Virginia Sen. Mark Warne, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden.
The 15 states that have yet to ratify the ERA are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia.
Jordan Fenster is an award-winning freelance journalist. He lives with his family in Fairfield County. He can be reached by or @JordanFenster on Twitter.
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