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House votes to remove deadline from decades-old Equal Rights Amendment

House votes to remove deadline from decades-old Equal Rights Amendment
When the amendment initially passed in 1972, states had seven years ratify it. The deadline then was extended three more years, by which time only 35 of the required 38 states had voted to ratify the ERA before efforts stalled for decades. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

March 18 (UPI) -- The House voted Wednesday to remove a deadline for states to ratify the decades-old Equal Rights Amendment -- making another attempt at getting the landmark proposal enshrined in the U.S. Constitution now that Democrats control the Senate.

Lawmakers voted 222-204 along party lines, with four Republicans joining Democrats, to remove the deadline for three-fourths of states to ratify the ERA -- which would add a 28th Amendment to the Constitution that bars denial of equal rights on the basis of sex.

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After the House voted to remove the deadline, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who introduced the resolution in January, said that women simply want to be included in the Constitution and have a guarantee of equal rights.

"We are the only country in the world with a written constitution that does not have a prohibition against sex discrimination," she said during a press conference flanked by women lawmakers dressed in white to honor the suffrage movement. "We demand that we be put into the Constitution. There is no expiration date on equality."

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Speier attempted the same thing a year ago and the House also passed her bill then, but it died of inaction in the GOP-held Senate after Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he didn't support it. This time, the chamber is narrowly controlled by Democrats, but the ERA's fate there is still uncertain.

Even if it passes the Senate, a recent court decision and a Department of Justice opinion both said the amendment's deadline to be enacted has long since expired.

When the amendment passed in 1972, states had seven years ratify it. That deadline was extended three more years to 1982, by which time only 35 of the required 38 states had voted to ratify it before efforts stalled. In recent years, three other states have ratified the ERA, with Virginia becoming the 38th state in January 2020. Nevada and Illinois did so in 2017 and 2018.

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That same month, the Justice Department under former President Donald Trump released an opinion stating that the ERA "would not become part of the Constitution" since it failed to secure the required states before the deadline decades ago.

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Early this month, District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras also ruled that Illinois, Nevada and Virginia were also too late to ratify the proposal. After the ruling, Speier tweeted that the Constitution is "silent on amendment deadlines" and noted that the 27th Amendment took 200 years to certify.

"Congress must pass my resolution ... and ensure gender equity is bedrock in the Constitution," she said.

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House judiciary committee Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler told reporters Wednesday that passing the resolution to extend the deadline was a century in the making. He added that Congress has every right to remove the deadline and "clear the way for enshrining equality in the Constitution."

Nadler rebuked Republicans who have argued that Congress has no authority to extend the deadline because it's part of the Constitution. He argues that a deadline is not in the Constitution, but rather was included in a congressional resolution.

"A century of effort, a century of effort to get women recognized as equal is long enough," he said.

President Joe Biden said in a statement Wednesday that he supports the ERA.

"Now is the time for us to recommit ourselves to tearing down the systemic barriers that continue to fuel gender disparities and limit opportunity for half of the American people," he said.

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