House breathes life into Equal Rights Amend­ment

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Maureen Groppe

WASH­ING­TON – The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives voted Thurs­day to re­move the 1982 dead­line for rat­i­fy­ing the Equal Rights Amend­ment for women, a move that is mostly sym­bolic as the Se­nate is not likely to follow suit and the abil­ity of Congress to change the dead­line has not been tested in the courts.

The House res­o­lu­tion was sup­ported by five Repub­li­cans: John Cur­tis of Utah, Rod­ney Davis of Illi­nois, Brian Fitzpatric­k of Penn­syl­va­nia, Tom Reed of New York and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey. No Demo­crat voted against the mea­sure.

The 232-183 vote came weeks af­ter Vir­ginia be­came the 38th – and a po­ten­tially piv­otal – state to rat­ify the amend­ment.

But that came decades af­ter the rat­i­fi­ca­tion dead­line set by Congress when the amend­ment was com­ing close to pas­sage in the 1970s.

“There can be no ex­pi­ra­tion date on equal­ity,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., the lead spon­sor of the res­o­lu­tion, ar­gued on the House floor.

In ad­di­tion to the le­gal un­cer­tainty, the amend­ment faces op­po­si­tion from anti-abor­tion groups who say it would lead to the re­moval of re­stric­tions on abor­tion.

“If we want to dis­cuss pro­tect­ing rights for all Amer­i­cans, it needs to per­tain to ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing and es­pe­cially new­borns,” Rep. Carol Miller said. The West Vir­ginia Repub­li­can said the ERA would force gov­ern­ment­funded health care providers to con­duct abor­tions.

In the GOP-con­trolled Se­nate, Repub­li­cans Su­san Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska back a sim­i­lar equal rights ef­fort.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch

McCon­nell, R-Ky., was dis­mis­sive of the res­o­lu­tion when asked last week if he would al­low it to come to the floor.

“I haven’t thought about that,” he said. “I am per­son­ally not a sup­porter, but I haven’t thought about it.”

If cod­i­fied into the Con­sti­tu­tion, the change would ex­plic­itly de­clare that women have equal rights un­der the law. Sup­port­ers say it’s a long-needed pro­tec­tion for women who face dis­crim­i­na­tion in the work­place and strug­gle against do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

Though many fed­eral, state and lo­cal laws pro­hibit dis­crim­i­na­tion, those can be changed much more eas­ily than a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment. Courts treat sex dis­crim­i­na­tion cases in­con­sis­tently, ad­vo­cates say.

“For too long, women have re­lied on the patch­work quilt of laws and prece­dents,” Speier said. “We have been forced to take our cases all the way to the Supreme Court – and of­ten there we lose.”

Rep. Jim Sensen­bren­ner, R-Wis., coun­tered that the amend­ment would bring many con­se­quences harm­ful to women. Girls would no longer pay less for car in­surance for hav­ing fewer ac­ci­dents than boys, he said. Women, who live longer than men, would have to pay higher life in­surance rates.

“Look past what looks nice on a bumper sticker,” he said.

Congress ap­proved the ERA in 1972, in­clud­ing in it what the Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice calls a “cus­tom­ary, but not con­sti­tu­tion­ally manda­tory,” sev­enyear dead­line for rat­i­fi­ca­tion by three­fourths of the states. When the num­ber of states fell three short of the re­quired 38 by 1977, Congress ex­tended the dead­line to 1982. No ad­di­tional states acted by the new dead­line.

Speier said it’s no co­in­ci­dence that the rat­i­fi­ca­tion ef­forts be­gan anew in 2017 when women took to the streets in protests, then marched to the polls in sub­se­quent elections, in­clud­ing last year’s in Vir­ginia that gave Democrats the votes to ap­prove the ERA in the state Leg­is­la­ture in Jan­uary. In 2017, Ne­vada be­came the 36th state to rat­ify the amend­ment. Illi­nois fol­lowed in 2018.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., holds up a copy of the Con­sti­tu­tion dur­ing an event about re­mov­ing the dead­line for rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the ERA.

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