Columnist Carrie N. Baker: Ayanna Pressley leads final push for ERA

  • Carrie N. Baker FILE PHOTO

Published: 5/24/2023 5:58:39 PM
Modified: 5/24/2023 5:56:10 PM

On April 28, Massachusetts CongresswomanAyannaPressley marched at the head of a large group of U.S. House members to the Senate chambers to demand passage of a joint resolution, S.J. Res. 4, to finally recognize the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) as the fully ratified 28th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Pressley is co-chair of the Equal Rights Amendment Caucus with Congresswoman Cori Bush from Missouri.

When Senate Republicans voted down a motion to discuss the resolution, Rep. Pressley responded defiantly: “Today, the obstruction of the ERA by some callous Senate Republicans is only the latest example of a damning failure to do the bare minimum to protect our fundamental rights at defining moments in our nation’s history. Despite this devastating setback, we remain resolved and determined.”

The Equal Rights Amendment has three sections. Section 1 reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Section 2 gives Congress the power to enact laws to ensure equality. And Section 3 says the amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification. That’s it.

Article V of the Constitution sets out two requirements for amendments: (1) passage by 2/3 of both houses of Congress and (2) ratification by three-fourths of the states — or 38 states. In 1971 and 1972 — after intense lobbying and demonstrations led by the National Organization for Women — the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate passed the ERA with bipartisan support. In January 2020, Virginia ratified the ERA — becoming the 38th and final state required to ratify the ERA.

So why is the ERA still not recognized as part of the Constitution, despite having met the two Article V requirements? The Trump administration’s Department of Justice blocked the national archivist from taking the final ministerial step to publish the ERA. The excuse was a 7-year ratification time-limit placed in the preamble of the legislation that sent the ERA to the states for ratification in 1973. The current Department of Justice says the time limit is not binding.

Constitutional law scholars argue that Trump’s Justice Department overstepped its bounds by blocking the archivist from publishing the ERA because Article V gives the executive branch no role in the ratification process. Some ERA advocates are calling on the Biden administration to direct the archivist to publish the ERA now, but the ERA Coalition and young ERA advocates in Generation Ratify support Rep. Pressley’s Joint Resolution declaring the ERA “is valid to all intents and purposes as part of the United States Constitution.”

A 53-member majority of the Senate supports the joint resolution, including two Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. Every Democratic member of the House is in favor of the Resolution to declare the ERA valid and ratified, but so far only one Republican has signed on as a supporter. Constitutional law scholars argue that the ERA is not subject to the filibuster and that Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) could himself bring the joint resolution to the Senate floor for a vote. He may do so if a few more House Republicans support the measure, then Democrats could use a discharge petition to get Pressley’s joint resolution, H.J. Res. 5, to the House floor for a vote.

The ERA is more important now than ever before because of the enormous erosion of women’s rights in recent years. Last summer in Dobbs v. Whole Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court overturned a 49-year-old precedent of constitutional abortion rights, ruling in part that abortion bans do not violate women’s Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights. Legal scholars are concerned that the Supreme Court might be preparing to further erode or even overturn women’s equal protection rights, which are much weaker than the ERA would provide. A federal ERA could be used to combat abortion bans and would give Congress the power to enact stronger laws to hold perpetrators of violence against women accountable. The ERA could also be used to finally achieve pay equity for women and provide protections from discrimination for LGBTQ people.

Across the world, 168 countries have explicit sex equality guarantees in their national constitutions, but not the United States. According to a recent poll, 85% of Americans across party lines support the ERA. Reps. Pressley and Bush have launched an Equal Rights Amendment petition at With every Senator on record and hopefully soon the House, advocates plan to make the ERA an issue in the 2024 elections. These votes are exposing members of Congress for their opposition to this basic, common sense guarantee supported by the vast majority of Americans. “For 100 years now a broad, diverse, multiracial, intergenerational movement of justice seekers, table shakers and movement builders have been organizing relentlessly to enshrine gender equality into the highest law of the land,” said Rep. Pressley. “We remain resolved and determined. This fight isn’t over.”

Carrie N. Baker is a professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College and a regular contributor to Ms. Magazine.

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