This year marks the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the ERA. While the text of the ERA is simple, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” the impact would be profound.
The majority of Americans mistakenly believe that women and men have equal rights under the Constitution. However, while the 14th Amendment of the Constitution explicitly states that men are guaranteed equality under law, it is poignantly silent about women.
The advancement of women’s equality continues incrementally through patchwork legislation and court decisions, but women’s equality under law remains illusory as these laws can be changed or even revoked at the whim of legislators and judges.
The ERA would provide, once and for all, the constitutional guarantee that all men and women are truly equal under the law and that these rights cannot easily be abridged. This is a position supported by an overwhelming majority (85%) of Americans across gender and party lines who support the Equal Rights Amendment.
Which is why AAUW’s 2023-25 Public Policy Priorities state that AAUW advocates ratification and passage of the Equal Rights Amendment “to guarantee equality, individual rights, and social justice for a diverse and inclusive society.”
When the ERA passed both chambers of Congress in 1972, it had two- thirds majority bipartisan support. Unfortunately, the preamble of the amendment included a requirement that ratification by three-fourths of all states must occur by 1982.
By the time the final ratification deadline passed in 1982, 35 states had ratified the ERA, just three states short during the time frame. Decades later, Nevada and Illinois ratified the ERA, and in 2020 Virginia became the 38th and final state needed to meet the three-fourths ratification requirement.
AAUW supports the legal argument that the seven-year time frame that Congress imposed in 1972 does not and cannot alter the provisions of the Constitution that govern constitutional amendments. At a minimum, Congress can change the time limit at its discretion in a subsequent joint resolution, which is what H.J. Res. 25 intends to do. As such, the Equal Rights Amendment has met the legal requirements to become a constitutional amendment.
Current Congressional Actions
Multiple paths are being pursued in the current session of Congress to affirm the ERA as the 28th Amendment. AAUW supports all of the multiple efforts to advance the amendment.
- H.J. Res. 25 / S.J. Res. 4 – Introduced on January 31, 2023 by Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-7) Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD). It would remove the arbitrary deadline for ratification and therefore recognize that the ERA has been ratified by the legislatures of ¾ of the states. This would allow Nevada, Illinois, and Virginia to count towards ratification, thus passing the threshold to recognize the ERA as part of the Constitution. This bipartisan resolution currently has 202 cosponsors. You can watch the press conference of the resolution introduction here.
- H.J. Res. 82 – Introduced on July 13, by Representative Cori Bush (D-MO-1) and Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY). The ERA Now resolution would remove the ratification deadline and ask the Archivist to publish the ERA as the 28th Amendment. You can watch the press conference for the ERA Now resolution here. While AAUW strongly supports the ERA Now resolution, the discharge petition is the more urgent ask for this week’s Lobby Corps action.
- Discharge petition for H.J. Res. 25 – Filed on July 19, by Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-7). Discharge petition filed.
What’s a Discharge Petition?
A discharge petition is a procedural rule that enables the minority party in Congress to force a vote on an issue without a report from the committee by “discharging” the committee from further consideration of a bill or resolution
After a bill has been introduced and referred to a standing committee for 30 days, a member of the House can file a motion to have the bill discharged. The discharge petition must gain 218 signatures (a full House majority) to advance.
While successful discharge petitions are rare and extremely difficult to advance due to majority party opposition, they can be a useful tool in rallying minority party members and for mobilizing supporters.
Historical Fun Fact
In 1970, Rep. Martha Griffiths (D-MI) filed a discharge petition to demand that the ERA be heard by the full House. This is one of the rare circumstances where a discharge petition was successful, and the ERA was passed by the House. However, the Senate attempted to add provisions exempting women from the draft, which effectively killed the chances of the ERA passing that session.