Virginia’s Passage of ERA Launches Final Drive for Constitutional Ratification

Interview with Carol Jenkins, co-president and CEO of the ERA Coalition, conducted by Scott Harris

Virginia will soon become the 38th state to approve the Equal Rights Amendment, meeting the requirement to move the ERA to the next step for ratification to the U.S. Constitution. However, the Trump Justice Department maintains that the ERA can no longer be ratified because its deadline expired in 1982.

Since 2017, legislatures in Nevada and Illinois have ratified the ERA. But five of the original 35 states that passed the ERA – Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee and South Dakota – have since rescinded their ratifications.

The proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads as follows, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” First proposed in 1921, the ERA didn’t gain traction until the amendment was approved by the House in 1971 and the Senate in 1972. Conservative opponents succeeded in eroding support for the ERA by arguing that with its ratification women would be drafted into the military and lose protections in divorce cases and child custody rulings.

ERA advocates argue that because the text of the amendment did not include a deadline, it is eligible for ratification indefinitely. Legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives to remove the deadline and to restart the ratification process. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Carol Jenkins, co-president and CEO of the ERA Coalition, who discusses the significance of the state of Virginia moving toward ERA passage and the fight ahead to overcome remaining obstacles to ratify the ERA to the U.S. Constitution.

CAROL JENKINS: On Jan. 15, we had the huge vote in both the Senate and the House of Delegates in Virginia. And each voted to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) resolution – their bills which would effectively, once we have a final signing of the papers and voting on each other’s bills, we have the 38th state that we needed. We want every girl, boy, woman and man in this country to have a chance at an equal future.

And when people say to us, Why would you need the ERA? I say, have you taken a serious look at the condition of women in the United States of America? They are 80 percent of the poor people. They are 80 percent of those, you know, discriminated against in every single way – whether it’s in pregnancy, what happens to so many women when they become pregnant still, you know, in 2020 that has to be fought.

You have to think about the billions of dollars that have been made by corporations and businesses by paying their women less than they pay their men over the years. You know? So I mean, it’s just incredible. If you think about the capitalist engine that runs our country, you know, one of the key pieces of it is that a woman is a second-class employee, a second-class worker. So I think people are beginning to understand that when we look at the #MeToo movement and what it unearthed – this enormous, huge sexual aggression towards women, thousands by the thousands, you know, of people who have women who have cases — and men — who have cases of sexual aggression.

Well, we believe that we need a fundamental recognition in the Constitution that we exist. It’s not there now. I mean, and we always go back to Justice Antonin Scalia, the conservative justice who was asked if the Constitution as it exists now prohibits discrimination based on sex. And he said, No it doesn’t. And that’s why it has been possible for women to be treated as second class citizens throughout all the years that you know, that we can even speak of, you know, from the beginning of the country. So we were left out deliberately when the Constitution was being written. And we have been trying now for 100 years to make that correction. The Constitution has been amended 27 times. You know, the ERA would be the 28th Amendment. You cannot tell me that there cannot be a way to acknowledge women in this country to provide an equal future and equal standing on the playbook for the way we live our lives.

SCOTT HARRIS: Carol, how will the country resolve the issue of the deadline, the 1982 deadline or if that deadline was arbitrary and nonbinding, how will that be determined and what’s the role of Congress right now in making that determination?

CAROL JENKINS: Well, there are bills in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to remove the deadline, not extend it the way it was done earlier. So, Jackie Speier from California has a bill in the House that has already enough co-sponsors – 224 to pass it. We know that, Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and Steny Hoyer are looking for a date to give us a full floor vote on that. The House Judiciary passed it out in April. So we are confident that the House of Representatives will pass H.J. Res 79 to remove the deadline.

The Senate bill is a bipartisan bill that’s sponsored by Sens. Ben Cardin and Lisa Murkowski. Murkowski is the lead co-sponsor on the Senate bill to remove the deadline. Sen. Susan Collins has signed onto that as a Republican and we have almost 40 Democrats who assigned that bill. We’re still working to get more Republican support for that bill. So, you know, that is a possibility — of removing the deadline. But there are many routes to getting the ERA ratified. And so all of our lawyers are looking at all of those possibilities to see which one will get us, you know, to the of the finish line.

For more information, visit ERA Coalition at eracoalition.org.

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