Congress holds first Equal Rights Amendment hearing in 36 years amid ratification push

Congress holds first Equal Rights Amendment hearing in 36 years amid ratification push
© Getty Images

A House Judiciary subcommittee on Tuesday held the first congressional hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 36 years as supporters push for ratification.

ERA advocates want a time requirement to be stripped from the amendment’s language. Congress passed the ERA in 1972, but it failed to earn the backing of enough state legislatures to be ratified by a 1982 deadline.

ADVERTISEMENT

The majority of those testifying Tuesday before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties argued the deadline was arbitrary and should be removed.

The panel heard testimony from a pair of female Democratic lawmakers backing legislation that would add language to the Constitution stating everyone is equal under the law.

Other witnesses included actress and advocate Patricia Arquette, as well as legal experts and a state senator involved in getting the ERA ratified in Nevada.

Both Nevada and Illinois have ratified the amendment in recent years. Ratification failed by one vote in Virginia earlier this year.

“That should send chills down the spines of each and every one of us, that discrimination is not prevented against women in the Constitution of the United States,” Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierSenators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment It's time for the left to advance a shared vision of national security: Start by passing the NDAA MORE (D-Calif.) said at the hearing.

Speier has introduced legislation that would remove the time requirement from the ERA and allow it to be added to the Constitution once it is ratified by the 38th state.

Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment House passes bill to reauthorize funding for 9/11 victims It's time for the left to advance a shared vision of national security: Start by passing the NDAA MORE (D-N.Y.) also introduced a measure for a new ERA, but she and Speier have said it's a “fall back” in the case Speier’s measure falls short.

Despite the resurgence of support, adding the ERA to the Constitution faces an uphill battle.

Conservatives argue that the amendment would expand access to abortion, and that equal rights have already been entrenched in court rulings and under the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause.

Rep. Mike JohnsonJames (Mike) Michael JohnsonBudget talks between White House, Pelosi spill into weekend House gears up for Mueller testimony New Zealand launches gun buyback program in response to mosque shootings MORE (R-La.), the ranking member of the subcommittee, said he believes women should be protected from discrimination. But he also argued that “the people’s right to protect the unborn would be eliminated if the ERA were to pass.”

Maloney and Speier took issue with Johnson’s remarks.

“With all due respect, the Equal Rights Amendment has absolutely nothing to do with abortion,” Maloney said. “Saying so is just divisive and a tool to try and defeat it, so please don’t ever say it again.”

Johnson later said he wasn’t trying to be “divisive” and pointed to groups that say the ERA could expand abortion rights.

If Congress passes legislation to remove the time limit for ratification, it’s unclear whether it would be able to survive the courts.

Kathleen Sullivan, a constitutional scholar and a partner at the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, testified that because the Constitution doesn’t require a time limit for amendments, this one could be removed.

Elizabeth Price Foley, a professor at the Florida International University College of Law, wasn't certain that the time requirement could be removed. She instead suggested introducing a new version of the ERA without a time requirement, but noted that it might be less likely to pass Congress now.

The hearing also included emotional testimony from some of the panelists.

Nevada state Sen. Pat Spearman (D), who helped guide the ERA through the ratification process in her state legislature in 2017, said Americans “must honor the sacrifices of our mothers and grandmothers.”

“We stand on the right side of history, we must persist in the name of all that is good,” she said. “The road is long and it has been full of twists and turns, but we must continue to get the Equal Rights Amendment as part of our Constitution.”

Arquette told lawmakers that “just because women didn’t achieve full equality in America by 1972 or 1982 doesn’t mean they shouldn’t achieve it today.”

“I hope you’re ready now," she said. "Because women have been waiting 232 years for equality in this country and it’s failed them.”

“We’re done waiting,” she added.