The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution has had a long, frustrating history. It was first introduced in Congress in 1923, then reintroduced in each session until it finally passed the House and Senate with the required two-thirds majority in 1972. Within a year, 30 of the required 38 states (three-fourths of 50) ratified the ERA before conservatives launched a fear campaign warning of “horrors” such as same-sex marriage and women choosing to fight in the military.
Five more states signed on, bringing the number to 35. Decades after the extended deadline passed, Nevada signed on in 2017, Illinois in 2018 and finally, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA in January 2020. However, in anticipation of this milestone, Donald Trump’s Justice Department issued an opinion to halt the progress, pointing to the expired deadline.
Now, two years later, the political tide has turned again. A flurry of activity this week is proving that the momentum for adopting the ERA as the 28th Amendment to the Constitution has returned. On Wednesday, the Biden Justice Department issued its own opinion stating that the earlier Trump opinion “does not preclude the House or the Senate from taking further action regarding ratification of the ERA.”
On Thursday, President Biden issued a statement urging Congress to “act immediately,” noting that “there is nothing standing in Congress’s way from doing so.” The House promptly passed a resolution, 222-204, to remove the deadline and finally recognize the ERA as part of the Constitution, asserting that the ERA “has met the requirements” and has become “valid to all intents and purposes as a part of the Constitution.”
As the resolution points out, the Archivist must now fulfill his “statutory and ministerial duty to certify that a proposed amendment to the Constitution is valid.” If this happens, then the ERA will have taken effect as of January 27, the required two years after Virginia’s (the last state’s) ratification. As Biden, who has supported the ERA since he first ran for the Senate as a 29-year-old, stated eloquently: “No one should be discriminated against based on their sex—and we, as a nation, must stand up for full women’s equality.”