Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Attorneys general in Virginia, Nevada and Illinois took legal action Thursday demanding the federal government certify the long-proposed Equal Rights Amendment, now that enough states have signed off in support of the controversial measure.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring joined his Illinois and Nevada counterparts in the 22-page lawsuit, which seeks to compel the U.S. Archivist to "carry out his statutory duty of recognizing the complete and final adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment."
Virginia's General Assembly passed the amendment earlier this month, making the state the 38th to ratify it -- surpassing the required minimum needed for the measure to be added to the U.S. Constitution. The proposal, first submitted to Congress in 1923, bars gender-based discrimination in the United States. For decades, however, proponents have failed to get the ERA added to the Constitution.
"For nearly 150 years, the constitution did not acknowledge the existence of women," Herring said. "Now, 231 years since our country was founded and on the centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, the American people have shown that they are as committed as ever to true equality by adopting the Equal Rights Amendment."
Advocates say the amendment would provide greater protections to women throughout the United States and could provide a pathway to new laws on issues like equal pay and gender discrimination. Opponents, however, fear such a measure might endanger the legal protections women already have and enshrine abortion rights in the Constitution.
National efforts to pass the ERA in the 1970s failed because support didn't meet the 38-state threshold. A deadline to reach the milestone expired in 1982, leading opponents to argue Virginia's endorsement -- and Nevada's and Illinois' in 2017 and 2018, respectively -- are moot. Also, five states have voted over the years to rescind or withdraw their approval.
To become part of the Constitution, a ratified amendment needs to certified and adopted by the U.S. Archivist. When it became apparent Virginia would become the 38th state to approve the ERA, the National Archives and Records Administration sought legal guidance from Justice Department.
NARA said this month it was told by the department the approvals in Nevada, Illinois and Virginia are illegitimate and the ERA is "no longer pending before the States."
Supporters, however, question Congress's constitutional authority to impose arbitrary time limits on proposed amendments -- an issue raised by Thursday's lawsuit.