The Stateswoman Archive

The Equal Rights Amendment: Strategy for Ratification

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), first proposed in 1923, was approved by Congress in 1972 and sent to the states with a seven-year deadline for ratification. At an extended deadline of June 30, 1982, the ERA had only 35 of the necessary 38 state ratifications. The amendment has been reintroduced in every session of Congress since then, most recently by chief sponsors Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Stephen Horn (R-CA).

In the past decade, a “three-state strategy” has evolved as an alternative ratification process. Since the 27th (“Madison”) Amendment was passed by Congress in 1789 and finally added to the Constitution in 1992, ERA supporters contend that the ERA’s ratification period is “sufficiently contemporaneous” and that Congress has the power to maintain the legal viability of the existing 35 state ratifications. The ERA’s time limit is open to change, as Congress demonstrated in extending the original deadline, and precedent indicates that recission votes are not valid. Therefore, Congress could amend or repeal the time limit and affirm state ratifications occurring after 1982, thereby keeping the existing 35 ratifications alive. The legal analysis for this strategy is outlined in “The Equal Rights Amendment: Why the ERA Remains Legally Viable and Properly Before the States” (William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law, Spring 1997.) In 1996, the Congressional Research Service analyzed the strategy and concluded that acceptance of the Madison Amendment does indeed have implications for the premise of the three-state strategy, and that the challenge to the strategy’s success is more political than constitutional.

Since 1995, ERA ratification bills have been introduced in Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Virginia. Most have seen committee action, but none has yet passed a floor vote. In 2003, it is expected that ratification bills will be introduced in Illinois, Missouri, Virginia, and several more of the fifteen unratified states (also including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah).

A July 2001 survey commissioned by the ERA Campaign Network (www.ERACampaign.net) showed that nearly all U.S. adults - 96% - believe that male and female citizens should have equal rights. The vast majority of those surveyed - 88% - also believed that the U.S. Constitution should make it clear that these rights are supposed to be equal. However, nearly three-quarters of the respondents - 72% - wrongly assume that the Constitution clearly includes such a guarantee.

The Equal Rights Amendment: Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. Section 3. This amendment shall go into effect two years after the date of ratification.

This article was prepared by the National Council of Women’s Organizations ERA Task Force, and appeared in the December 2002 issue of the Wisconsin Women’s Network’s newsletter “The Stateswoman.” For more information, seewww.equalrightsamendment.org