House removes deadline for ratifying ERA

The House on Wednesday adopted a resolution to remove the deadline for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to formally ban discrimination on the basis of sex as one of Democrats’ top legislative priorities.

Lawmakers passed the resolution largely along party lines, 222-204, to send it to the Senate. Four Republicans joined with all Democrats in support of the measure. 

The vote comes after a federal judge ruled earlier this month that three states’ recent ratifications of the ERA came too late to ensure its addition to the Constitution.

States were granted a seven-year deadline in 1972 to ratify the ERA, which was later extended to 1982. But only 35 states had ratified the ERA by then, falling short of the three-fourths needed to successfully amend the Constitution.

Virginia became the 38th state last year to ratify the ERA and clinch the three-fourths threshold, following votes by Nevada and Illinois since 2017 — albeit more than 40 years after Congress first endorsed the proposed amendment. 

Proponents argue that Congress should act to remove the original deadline from decades ago so the ERA can still be ratified.

“[Former Supreme Court Justice] Antonin Scalia, the great jurist, said once, does the Constitution require discrimination based on sex? The answer is no. But if the question is, does the Constitution prohibit discrimination based on sex? The answer is also no. That should send a chilling feeling in each of us that in the Constitution of the United States, women are not protected,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the resolution, said during House floor debate.

“There can be no expiration date on equality,” Speier said.

The House passed a similar resolution last year to remove the ERA’s ratification deadline, but it was ignored by the Senate, which was controlled by Republicans at the time.

The House is also expected to pass legislation later Wednesday to renew the Violence Against Women Act, another bill that the Senate didn’t take up in the previous session of Congress.

House Democratic women made a point of wearing white, the traditional color of suffragettes, during Wednesday’s proceedings to mark the occasion.

House Democrats are sending the measures back over to the upper chamber now that their party controls both chambers of Congress, among many bills central to their legislative agenda that never got Senate action under Republicans.

Even so, the ERA resolution and other bills that rank among Democrats’ top priorities still might not become law due to the Senate filibuster requiring 60 votes in the evenly divided chamber.

A number of House conservatives pushed back against the measure for its language providing protections for the transgender community and argued it would open the door for laxer laws on abortion. 

“This is a path that has already proven to be a threat to women’s privacy, safety and equality. Don’t take it from me. Talk to the nine women in California who were sexually harassed in a women’s shelter by a biological male identifying as a woman,” Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) said on the floor ahead of the vote. “The Equal Rights Amendment would not only codify inequality for women but also destroy the rights of the unborn. ERA advocates have been unequivocal about their support for abortion and using the ERA to overturn pro-life laws.” 

The judge’s ruling earlier this month followed a similar opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel last year that the ERA is no longer pending before the states and can’t be ratified because its deadline expired.

When asked about the legal counsel’s opinion, Attorney General Merrick Garland said in written answers to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation process that “any opinions or legal advice I might give on this subject would be based solely on the law, and not on any other consideration.”

Tags Abortion Constitution Equal Rights Amendment ERA Jackie Speier Merrick Garland Supreme Court Vicky Hartzler
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