In January of this year, the state of Virginia made national news by ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Many applauded the state for taking affirmative steps to recognize the equality of the sexes as it related to constitutional protections. Still, others saw the action as only symbolic in nature. After all, they argued, the deadline for ratifying the ERA and securing its place as an official amendment to the United States Constitution came and went nearly forty years ago.
"Mrs. America" the series
Anyone who follows the topic, or politics in general, has likely seen or at least heard about the new FX series “Mrs. America.” The series follows the plight of the women’s liberation movement to secure 38 states' ratification of the ERA during the 1970s. The series also focuses on the push back from groups in opposition to the ERA, and the differing viewpoints of each respective faction.
The series stars Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative pundit who led a stiff and successful opposition against the ratification of the ERA. Her group, STOP ERA, was a leading cause against the political and social movement behind the ERA. “STOP” was actually an acronym for “Stop Taking Our Privileges” – and odd sentiment to those working so hard to try to gain equal footing for women in the eyes of the constitution.
STOP ERA focused much of its platform for opposition on the notion that the ERA would deprive women privileges such as “dependent wife” benefits under Social Security, exemptions from the draft that was sending men to the Vietnam War, and separate bathrooms for men and women. Schlafly focused her fight by uniting housewives and homemakers, who worried that passage of the ERA would thrust them into the workforce and take away their rights to stay at home and raise their children.
The ERA was initially given a seven-year period for the necessary ratification from three-fourths of the states but ultimately failed to secure the required number even though it came very close. The initial deadline of 1979 was extended to 1982, but the extension proved to be nothing more than a kind gesture. Regardless, the ERA continues to be introduced every Congressional session to no avail.
Continued push to ratify
So, why would Congress continue to entertain a proposed amendment passed its deadline for ratification? Those in support of the ERA argue that there is nothing contained in Article V of the United States Constitution(which lays out the method for ratifying a constitutional amendment) that contemplates Congressionally-imposed deadlines for ratification. Moreover,those supporters also argue that the only two United States Supreme Court cases which discuss ratification deadlines only mention the process is dicta. As such, there is no legal precedent to allow Congress to impose such a deadline as the one it levied against the ERA.
Passage of the ERA would be beneficial for all, as it would cast “sex” as a suspect classification for judicial scrutiny of constitutional claims. This would provide more protection for women, and any other sex, who might choose to challenge a given law on a constitutional basis. However, the fight for ratification has been going on for decades, and it does not seem to be any closer to a conclusion.