By Congresswoman Jackie Speier, lead sponsor of H.J. Res. 113
Our Constitution granted women the right to vote 94 years ago, but efforts to ban discrimination based on sex have never earned constitutional status. This gaping legal hole was summed up recently by conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: “Certainly the Constitution does not require(discrimination on the basis of sex). The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”
Women today aren’t guaranteed equal pay for equal work and are subjected to restrictions on contraception and family planning services, unfair workplace conditions and laws that favor the perpetrators over victims in cases of sexual assault. The need for constitutionally guaranteed equality remains shamefully overdue. How can we have “liberty and justice for all” when a prohibition against sex discrimination is missing from our nation’s blueprint?
The Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in every session of Congress from 1923 until 1972, the year it finally passed. The amendment required ratification by 38 states, but fell three states short.
The 15 states that have not ratified the ERA are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. The Illinois Senate passed the ERA in May and the Illinois House is set to vote on it in November.
The ERA would provide women with remedies to combat discrimination in pay equity, pregnancy accommodations, contraceptive coverage and domestic violence. Currently, women face a double burden when they are victimized. They must first prove the violation happened, and then they must also prove intent to discriminate based on sex. The ERA would banish this “intent” requirement forever.
As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated, “I would like my granddaughters, when they pick up the Constitution, to see that notion – that women and men are persons of equal stature.”
And so I have introduced House Joint Resolution 113 to eliminate the deadline for ERA ratification.
The ERA has had its deadline moved in the past; the 27th Amendment (congressional pay), was ratified 202 years after it passed Congress. When states tried to rescind their support for the 14th and 15th Amendments, their efforts were struck down by the courts; therefore, the 35 states that have already voted for the ERA cannot take back their support.
Equality is only three states and 24 words away. It’s time for these words to be made constitutional law: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”