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Senate Judiciary Committee takes up Equal Rights Amendment

By Brennan Leach, Medill News Service
Sen. Lisa Murkowski R-Alaska, co-sponsor of a bill to affirm the Equal Rights Amendment as the law of the land, said she is surprised by the Senate's lack of attention to the issue of equal rights for women. Photo by Jemal Countess/UPI
1 of 3 | Sen. Lisa Murkowski R-Alaska, co-sponsor of a bill to affirm the Equal Rights Amendment as the law of the land, said she is surprised by the Senate's lack of attention to the issue of equal rights for women. Photo by Jemal Countess/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday debated the legality and impact of the Equal Rights Amendment, which has a 100-year history, but never has become the law of the land.

The amendment, which guarantees gender equity under the law, has been hotly debated, on and off, for decades. With Democrats in control of the Senate, it has emerged again as an issue -- but one that could be doomed in the long run.

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The Equal Rights Amendment, know as the ERA, was first introduced in Congress in 1923, but did not pass the House and Senate until 1972. Then it went to the states for ratification.

Congress set a seven-year deadline for at least 38 states to individually ratify the amendment before it could become part of the Constitution. Though the deadline had expired, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment in 2020, reaching the number of necessary states for certification.

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But arguments and court battles continue over whether Virginia's ratification came too late. ERA proponents claims the seven-year deadline was arbitrary and could not be enforced.

Now, a century after its introduction in Congress, a bicameral group of lawmakers has introduced legislation to finally affirm ERA as the law of the land.

"There is no time limit on equality," Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., at a press conference Jan. 31 to announce the resolution, which she co-sponsored. "This is about reciprocity, what we deserve, and about enshrining our humanity and dignity."

The ERA still faces opposition from some Republican lawmakers and advocacy groups. The leading anti-ERA group and subject of the recent Hulu show Mrs. America, the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles organization argued that because the timeline for ratification has expired, the legislation is dead.

Eagles President Ed Martin accused Democrats of drumming up "long-defunct initiatives that whip their voting base into a frenzy."

"This pitiful attempt to resurrect ERA isn't serious. It's political theater," he said in a statement last week.

In an interview ahead of Tuesday's hearing, Zakiya Thomas, president of the ERA Coalition, said that Congress has the ability to remove deadlines at any time.

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"There's a financial interest in keeping women subjugated," she said. "If you follow the money, you'll see who's really leading the charge and what they want the status quo for," Thomas said.

The status quo has already been disrupted, according to Sen. Cynthia Lummis,, R-Wyo., who said she previously supported the ERA, but now believes the resolution has lost its purpose.

"Since for some reason in the 2020s we don't even know the difference between men and women anymore." she said earlier this month outside the Senate Chamber. "There's all this fluidity in the definition [of "woman"], I just don't support it anymore."

Pressley said that female lawmakers who oppose the ERA are "complicit in their own undermining and marginalization and oppression."

The resolution does have some bipartisan support. Co-sponsor Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said that she is surprised by the Senate's lack of attention to the issue of equal rights for women, and that there is nothing unconstitutional about ratifying the amendment now.

"What has happened in the states should not die here in the Senate," she said during Tuesday's hearing. "We still have a long way to go when it comes to achieving equality for women, and I think we need the ERA to get there."

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In addition to Murkowski, the committee heard from Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., as well as lawyers and advocates.

Three protesters from the pro-ERA group Equal Means Equal, including the group's president, Kamala Lopez, interrupted anti-ERA lawyers and Sen. Lindsay Graham R-S.C., They were removed from the room by the Capitol Police.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the resolution will come to the Senate floor for a vote in coming weeks. Democrats would need 60 votes to move from debate to a full vote on passage.

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