Virginia lawmakers ready Equal Rights Amendment ratification push

ERA Ratification vote in Virginia's 2020 legislative session

CHARLOTTESVILLE, V.A. (WVIR) - More than four decades after the original ratification deadline in 1979, the Equal Rights Amendment stands just one state short of ratification and being added to the Constitution.

Virginia’s lawmakers have pledged to hold a vote in this new session, meaning Virginia could be the state that finally gets the amendment passed.

The ERA aims to legally cement equality on the basis of sex. Ratification would end legal discrimination between men and women for things like employment and divorce.

“I think we’re definitely going to see the ERA be ratified,” 57th District Delegate Elect Sally Hudson (D) said. “We’re going to see it move quickly.”

In 1979, the amendment fell just three states short of ratification. Since then, Nevada and Illinois have ratified it as well, leaving the amendment just one state short of the constitutionally required 38.

“It is high time that we added women to the Constitution, and Virginia is going to be the last state to make it happen,” Hudson added.

The text of the Equal Rights Amendment, as passed by the US Congress.
The text of the Equal Rights Amendment, as passed by the US Congress. (Source: wvir)

Virginia’s democratically controlled state Senate voted to ratify the amendment six times in the last decade, but similar votes in the Republican-held House of Delegates failed. With Democrats now holding both legislative houses, new delegates like Hudson are pledging to bring ratification to a vote again in the 2020 legislative session.

“There’s a lot of new faces, a lot of new energy, and a lot of legislation that our community cares about has been stuck in Richmond for a long time,” Hudson explained. “With the turnover in the leadership we’re finally going to see it move."

The bill also has support from top officials in Richmond, like Governor Ralph Northam. Attorney General Mark Herring has also expressed his support.

“I was raised by a single mom and I heard from her how many times in her life she experienced discrimination,” Herring said. “She was a flight attendant, back then they were called stewardesses, and they had a no-marriage rule. When she got engaged she was forced to quit."

A legal challenge to any potential ratification is already pending. On December 16, 2019 officials from Alabama, Louisiana, and South Dakota announced a lawsuit to block the amendment taking effect if ratified. They argue the deadline had come and gone, and the will of the people was carried out in the states not voting to ratify in that time.

Multiple questions also surround the constitutionality of ratification at this point in time. First, opponents question the validity of voting to ratify the amendment more than 40 years after the initial deadline. President Jimmy Carter signed a bill extending the deadline to 1982, which some also call unconstitutional. However, supporters of the ERA note that the 27th Amendment was ratified more than 200 years after it was originally passed in Congress in 1789.

Five states have also rescinded their support for the amendment after originally voting to ratify it. However, it’s unclear whether or not states can constitutionally do so. Multiple times throughout history, states that voted for amendments, and then rescinded, have still been counted towards the final ratification total. This was the case for the 14th, 15th and 19th amendments.

Constitutional experts have stated that states’ original support for ratification is binding, and rescinding that support later is not valid.

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