Congress renews push for Equal Rights Amendment; could FL help?

Miami-Dade Democratic state Rep. Dotie Joseph is co-sponsoring the ERA resolution in the Florida House
Miami-Dade Democratic state Rep. Dotie Joseph co-sponsored the ERA resolution in the 2019 spring session.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House advanced a resolution on Wednesday that aims to ease the ratification of a Constitutional amendment that would ensure equality for U.S. citizens under the law, regardless of their sex. 

The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1923 and was passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate in the 1970s, but has failed to win approval by the 38 states needed for ratification.

In 2017, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the ERA and Illinois last year became the 37th state to do so. 

The 13 states that haven’t ratified the ERA are: Arizona, Utah, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Virginia.

Now, backers of the amendment are pinning their hopes on Virginia after this month’s elections handed Democrats control of both houses of the Virginia General Assembly. The state is widely expected to ratify the ERA after Democrats assume power in January. 

This fall, the Florida Phoenix wrote that there’s momentum on the ERA issue in the Sunshine State. Activists and lawmakers in the Florida Legislature have been pursuing an effort to make Florida the final state needed to approve the ERA.

But thorny legal issues could complicate the process and the matter could land in the courts if Virginia or another state does become the 38th state to ratify the ERA. 

Capitol
U.S. Capitol. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

One prominent issue: a congressional deadline imposed when Congress passed the ERA. Lawmakers initially set a March 1979 ratification deadline for states, which was later extended to June 1982. But the amendment still hadn’t gotten the backing of 38 states when that deadline expired. 

On Wednesday, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee attempted to nullify that deadline entirely. 

The panel voted 21-11 along party lines to approve a resolution that would remove the deadline initially laid out in 1972.

The resolution, which now heads to the full House for a vote, has the backing of 217 co-sponsors.

Democrats who voted for the measure include Florida’s Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. (Floridians Val Demings and Ted Deutch did not vote in committee but are both co-sponsors.)

Republicans who voted against the measure include Florida’s Greg Steube. And Republicans who did not vote today include Florida’s Matt Gaetz.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced a Senate version of the resolution to remove the ERA deadline. But it’s unclear whether the effort will gain traction in the GOP-controlled Senate. 

House Democrats hailed Wednesday’s vote as a historic event, lamenting the fact that the ERA hasn’t yet been added to the Constitution. 

“Unfortunately, despite existing protections, in troubling ways, women’s rights have begun to slide backwards in recent years,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.). “For instance, the Trump Administration continues an onslaught of threats to women’s rights on a regular basis,” he added. “Also, women still have uneven protections against other forms of discrimination and against harassment in the workplace.”

Ahead of the vote, Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) said that “all Americans deserve to be treated equally.” She added, “Women have been fighting tooth and nail for decades to be recognized as equal in the eyes of the law.” 

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) said, “It is shameful that the Equal Rights Amendment has not been ratified. It’s far past time that we give women the equal respect, recognition and the resources that we all deserve.”