By Laura Carter Callow
This year, I’m really excited about presenting the ERA Update because there is so much positive going on with the Equal Rights Amendment.
Currently, there are three ERA Resolutions in Congress. Two of them are called the start-over measures because that’s what we would have to do—start over. Get both Houses of Congress to approve by a two-thirds vote and then get thirty-eight states to ratify.
The first start-over bill is in the Senate. It is identical to the 1972 version that we all know so well: “Equality of rights …” There is no House version of this bill.
The second start-over measure is in the House. It contains two sentences. The first reads: “Women shall have equal rights in the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.” The second sentence is identical to the wording of the 1972 bill.
The first sentence was added to include women specifically in the Constitution and to clarify the intent of the amendment to make discrimination on the basis of a person’s sex unconstitutional. It is adapted from the text of Alice Paul’s original 1923 Equal Rights Amendment. There is no Senate version of this bill.
The third Resolution is called the Three-state Strategy. It would eliminate the time limit in the 1972 version of the ERA. This ensures that Congress will recognize the ratification of three more states. It requires a simple majority of both Houses of Congress to become law and the House and Senate have identical versions of this bill.
Now, several unratified states are not waiting for Congress to act. Ratification bills have been submitted to the legislatures of Florida, Virginia, Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Illinois.
Illinois is the only state in the union to require a three-fifths majority to ratify a constitutional amendment. Nevertheless, Illinois seems the most hopeful. In May of this year, the Illinois Senate ratified the ERA by a vote of 39-11. That’s more than three-fifths and some of those votes were Republican. This bill is now in the Illinois House. The leader of the House is Representative Lou Lang. He has been advocating for the ERA since the 1970s and he is working on getting that three-fifths majority. He plans to bring the ERA to a vote in November after the election. If anyone can get this super-majority vote in the Illinois House, it will be Lou Lang. So we are cautiously hopeful.
Back in Washington, D.C., the Supreme Court issued its egregious decision, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, lead sponsor of the start-over bill, and Representative Jackie Speier, lead sponsor of the three-state strategy bill, were so upset by this decision that they held an ERA rally on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court on July 24.
Representative Maloney said, “We can’t afford to watch the Supreme Court continue to roll back the rights we’ve spent decades working to secure. The only way to fully achieve and protect equality for women is to write it directly into our Constitution. The effort that began with Alice Paul and the suffragettes (in 1923) is not over.” Speaking of rallies, an ERA and Voting Rights Rally is planned for Washington, D.C. on September 13, 2014; see http://rallyhub.wearewoman.us/.
There is a lot of movement for the ERA but little coverage in the media. That’s why we’re asking you to share the information on the rally website. If you have e-mail or are on Face book, you can either forward it or post the site on your Face book page. I encourage all of you to go onto the “United 4 Equality” site too: www.United4Equality.com.
I have another concern. All of the national organizations represented in this room have positions in support of starting over with the original ERA. A few organizations also support the three-state strategy. However, they tend to treat starting over and ratifying three more states as if they were equal.
They are not! In March 1972, Congress approved the ERA. In May, the Michigan legislature ratified it. Is there anyone here who thinks we, in Michigan, could ratify the ERA a second time that easily?
Now, my purpose is not finger pointing. It is, instead, to inform you and hopefully inspire you to action. Each of your organizations has its channels to Washington, D.C. And each of you can, in one way or another, tell your national leadership that you want them to support the three-state strategy. That you want the ERA, but you don’t want to start over. Tell them how difficult it will be, if not impossible, to get Michigan to ratify again.
There are those in Washington who oppose the three-state strategy because they fear the Supreme Court will strike it down. I say we don’t know this until we try.
There are solid legal reasons why we believe this strategy is constitutional.
1. There is no time limit in the Constitution.
2. The time limit in the ERA appears in the proposing clause, not in the body of the amendment.
3. The time limit has already been moved once. It was put into the proposing clause by one Congress and changed by another Congress. It seems reasonable to believe a third Congress can remove it.
It will probably surprise you, but I believe that Antonin Scalia, one of our most conservative Supreme Court Justices, would support removing the deadline. Why? Well there are two reasons. First, Scalia is a “strict constructionist.” That means he believes in the “original intent” of the framers of the Constitution. And, we all know, the framers did not include a time limit.
Then, last April, Scalia and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg were asked, in a televised show, what amendments they would make to the Constitution, if they had the opportunity. Scalia said he would amend the amending provision to make amending easier. His exact words were, “I certainly would not want a constitutional convention. Whoa! Who knows what would come out of it?” He went on to explain that he had once calculated what percentage of the population could prevent an amendment to the Constitution and found that it was less than 2 percent. He went on to say, “It ought to be hard, but not that hard.”
The time limit is a grave injustice. It took 49 years to get the ERA approved by Congress, which then gave us one-seventh of that time to get it ratified. When we couldn’t get thirty-eight states in a mere seven years, they gave us a measly three more years.
In 1992, ten years after the ERA time limit expired, Congress had no trouble accepting the ratification of an amendment that had taken 203 years. That’s more than twenty-times the time they gave the ERA.
I am outraged. I wish every woman in America were equally outraged. I wish all of you felt the same anger because then we would really see movement.
Part of the problem is complacency. We have passed some good laws that help women. Consequently, many women don’t see the pressing need.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg addressed this very issue last April when she appeared with Antonin Scalia. She said, “The [Equal Rights] Amendment means that women are people of equal stature before the law. I think we have achieved that through legislation but legislation can be repealed, altered. But that principle belongs in our Constitution. It is in every Constitution written since World War II.”
And, I would add, courts don’t have to consider whether or not a law discriminates on the basis of sex.
In closing, I have made several suggestions as to how you can help. They range from sharing the information with a friend, to e-mailing it or posting it on Face book, to agitating within your own organization—especially agitating in your own organization. That’s the only way we will get real movement in Congress. Please do what you can.