House passes bill paving way for ERA ratification

The House passed legislation Thursday that would remove the deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a top priority for Democrats.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierHouse passes bill paving way for ERA ratification Abortion wars flare up in Congress House Democrats question Secret Service on payments to Trump properties MORE (D-Calif.), now heads to the Senate after a 232-183 vote. Five Republicans voted with Democrats in favor of the legislation.

Under the Equal Rights Amendment bill first passed by Congress in 1972, states were given a seven-year deadline to ratify the measure for it to become the 28th amendment to the Constitution. That deadline was later extended to 1982.

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Only 35 states had ratified the ERA by 1982, short of the three-fourths needed.

But over the past two years, three more states have approved the amendment, with Virginia becoming the 38th state in January.

Proponents of the measure argue that ratifying the ERA is long overdue and necessary to protect women’s rights.

“Women want to be equal and we want it in the Constitution. I am equal on this House floor with all of my male colleagues, but when I walk out I have fewer rights and protections than them. I rise today because the women of America are done being second-class citizens,” Speier said on the floor ahead of the vote.

“We are done being paid less for our work, done being violated with impunity, done being discriminated against for our pregnancies, done being discriminated against simply because we are women. The ERA is about equality, the ERA is about sisterhood, motherhood, survival, dignity and respect," she added.

While the bill is aimed at removing the deadline, its supporters say Congress would not have to pass additional legislation to ratify the ERA.

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“Congress would not have to pass another bill to ratify the ERA. I should note, there is disagreement on whether the deadline is even in effect now and needs to be removed by Congress,” one senior Democratic aide told The Hill ahead of the vote.

“We are voting on H.J.Res.79 to remove any legal ambiguities surrounding the deadline and reaffirm our support for the ERA and women’s equality," the aide said.

While the bill saw some bipartisan support, top Republicans argue that women’s rights are protected under the 14th Amendment, adding that the ERA is unnecessary and that Congress does not have the authority to change the deadline retroactively.

Several GOP lawmakers have also cited Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s recent remarks stating she would like to see advocates start over.  

“I would like to see a new beginning,” Ginsburg said during an event on Monday at the Georgetown University Law Center. “I’d like it to start over.”

Other Republicans argued the ERA would be used to unwind anti-abortion legislation.

“First, the bill is not constitutional. When the ERA originally passed, Congress explicitly set a deadline for ratification. The deadline was in 1979, almost 41 years ago. Only 35 states of the 38 needed had ratified it. Then five states unratified so the count's down to 30. Thus, the Equal Rights Amendment was dead,” Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) said during debate on the floor.

“The U.S. Department of Justice issued a legal opinion just last month reiterating that the ERA’s ratification timeline is expired. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgFive takeaways from Trump's trip to India Justices bar Mexican parents from suing over fatal cross-border shooting of teen Supreme Court upholds death sentence for Arizona man MORE said the deadline passed. 'I would like to see a new beginning. I'd like it to start over,'" Lesko added, quoting the justice. "The third reason I oppose this bill: If ratified, the ERA would be used by pro-abortion groups to undo pro-life legislation and lead to taxpayer-funded abortions.”

The Department of Justice’s Office of the Legal Counsel has also pushed back on the legislative branch’s ability to ratify the amendment because the 1982 deadline had passed.

The bill faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled upper chamber, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans give Barr vote of confidence Democrats block two Senate abortion bills VA could lead way for nation on lower drug pricing MORE (R-Ky.) has signaled he will not support the measure.