Lawmakers reintroduce ERA in wake of Supreme Court's Wal-Mart decision

Democratic lawmakers are reintroducing an amendment that would ensure against gender discrimination in the U.S. in the wake of this week's controversial ruling by the Supreme Court.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on Wednesday reintroduced the Equal Rights Amendment at an event outside the Capitol.

“The Equal Rights Amendment is still needed because the only way for women to achieve permanent equality in the U.S. is to write it into the Constitution,” Maloney said, according to a subsequent press release.

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“Making women’s equality a constitutional right — after Congress passes and 38 states ratify the ERA — would place the United States on record, albeit more than 200 years late, that women are fully equal in the eyes of the law,” she said.

The reintroduction of the amendment follows Monday’s decision by the Supreme Court to shelve a major gender-discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart.

The ERA was first introduced in 1923 as the “Lucretia Mott Amendment” in honor of the pioneering women’s rights activist. The amendment was reintroduced each year thereafter until it was passed and submitted to the states for ratification in 1972.

Only 35 of the necessary 38 states later voted for ratification in 1982, and the amendment has been reintroduced each year since. Maloney has been the sponsor since the 105th Congress, while Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) championed it in the Senate from the 99th Congress through the 110th.

In the Wal-Mart case, the court ruled that the suit – brought by three former female employees seeking damages for 1.5 million current and former employees – not go forward as a class action. The suit could have resulted in billions of dollars in damages for the mammoth retailer.

Significant proof that Wal-Mart operated under a general policy of discrimination was “entirely absent here,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in the court’s majority opinion.

However, four liberal justices on the court — including all three female members — joined a concurring opinion that disagreed with much of the majority opinion, suggesting there was evidence of discrimination in Wal-Mart’s hiring.

Democrats reacted angrily to the decision.

The “Supreme Court decision sets back the cause of equality for women and for all Americans in the workplace and in our society,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “And it will make it more difficult for workers to come together to fight claims of gender discrimination.”

“It is a matter of fundamental fairness in our nation, and we must work — in the courts and in Congress — to correct this injustice throughout our country,” she added.

“The Wal-Mart case decided by the Supreme Court this week is a classic example of how far attitudes must still come,” Maloney said. “The facts of the case support the view that over a million women were systematically denied equal pay by the world’s largest employer.”

The Equal Rights Amendment would offer a “sweeping, historic” effect that is “long overdue,” she added.

The text of the reintroduced bill provides that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Menendez echoed his Democratic colleague, agreeing that women’s rights must be protected.

“It is a disgrace that American women are still not constitutionally guaranteed equal rights under the law,” he said. “Women have made tremendous advancements in our society, but we must continue to advance women’s rights by bringing our laws in line with 21st century values.”

The House bill currently has 159 House co-sponsors – many of them Democrats – including Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), co-chairwoman of the Congressional Women’s Caucus.

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