JUNE 23, 2011 ISSUE

ERA: Three or 38 Ratifications?

Question Now Before U.S. Congress

The Equal Rights Amendment

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney and others yesterday introduced a bill that would start over the 88-year-old effort to incorporate equal rights according to sex into the U.S. Constitution. The passage of HJ Resolution 61 would mean 38 state ratifications would be required for equal rights under the law to be enshrined as the fundamental law of the land.

This move followed Maloney’s signing on as a co-sponsor last week to HJ Resolution 47, the bill of Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) that has been before the Congress since last March. This bill would allow completion of the ratification of the long-dormant amendment to the U.S. Constitution with only three more state ratifications. 

“Making women’s equality a constitutional right—after Congress passes and 38 states ratify the ERA—would place the United States on record, albeit more than 200 years late, that women are fully equal in the eyes of the law,” Maloney said.

The deadline that HJ Resolution 47 would remove is not part of the original amendment bill itself, and it would preserve all 35 state ratifications to date. The ERA stalled in 1982 because of the 1972 ERA bill’s deadline.

In May, when Maloney announced her plans, Pinky Hayden of Blowing Rock said a start-over amendment would be “a step backward.”

Hayden was the High Country’s representative in the North Carolina General Assembly when the ERA failed there in 1982. She has called since 2008 for North Carolina to ratify. She was unavailable for comment on this latest measure.

Sherrie King, president of the High Country Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) said, “Many women are surprised to find the ERA has not been ratified and is not a part of our Constitution. [We] support the ratification of the ERA as soon as possible.”

Roberta Madden of the Black Mountain-based Equal Rights Amendment North Carolina Citizens Task Force, who last April spoke in Boone for the AAUW about the ERA ratification effort, said that she is “pleased that Congresswoman Maloney has become a cosponsor of HJR 47, which is our best hope for getting true equality for all citizens, regardless of gender. Starting over might take another 88 years, [which is] how long since the ERA was first introduced.

“[This week’s] Supreme Court ruling in the Walmart case...underscores how great the inequalities are,” she said. This ruling disallowed a sex-discrimination class action suit by hundreds of female Walmart workers.

Although attempts have been made to allow ERA passage with three more ratifications in recent years because of Constitutional developments in the 1990s, Baldwin’s HJ Resolution 47 to remove the deadline is a new strategy for the ERA this year. Her bill currently has 22 co-sponsors.

The deadline has been a repeated obstacle when ERA supporters have tried to get ratification in several of the 15 non-ratified states. 

Maloney’s bill has 159 original co-sponsors, which, according to a statement for the High Country Press from her office, “shows the broad support in Congress for the ERA.”

She “believes that pursuing both strategies gives the ERA the best chance of becoming law.”

In a statement in May, Maloney said that she supports both strategies because “it’s difficult to know in advance if the three-state strategy will be considered constitutional by the courts.”

Carolyn Cook, of Washington-based United 4 Equality, which devised the deadline-removal strategy, said that the U.S. “is hypocritical to [work to] curb violence against women and girls [abroad] while denying Constitutional equality at home. We want our equality now, with three states, not a hundred years from now, with 38 states.”

She said that she would like the public to ask their representatives to co-sponsor HJ Resolution 47. The toll-free number is 877-762-8762.

For more information, click to www.united4equality.com or www.era-nc.org.