Virginia Makes History With Equal Rights Amendment Vote

RICHMOND, VA — The Virginia General Assembly voted Wednesday to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The House of Delegates voted 59-41 as a packed gallery of ERA supporters looked on, and the state Senate voted 28-12 to approve the measure, which first was introduced in statehouses across the country in the 1960s.

The proposed amendment states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Once the Virginia House and Senate approve each chamber’s ERA resolution, the state will become the 38th and final state needed to ratify the ERA to make it part of the U.S. Constitution.

The addition of the ERA to the U.S. Constitution faces obstacles. An opinion from the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel says the deadline to ratify the amendment had passed years ago. Ahead of the 1979 deadline and 1982 extension, only 35 of the required 38 states had ratified the amendment.

“Congress may not revive a proposed amendment after a deadline for its ratification has expired,” the opinion said. “Should Congress wish to propose the amendment anew, it may do so through the same procedures required to propose an amendment in the first instance, consistent with Article V of the Constitution.”

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Nevada and Illinois preceded Virginia in ratifying the ERA, but Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee and South Dakota reversed their ratifications. According to The Post, advocates for the ERA believe the Constitution does not allow for reversals of ratifications, and no federal court rulings have been made on the issue. In late 2019, three state attorneys general filed a lawsuit in anticipation of Virginia’s ERA ratification, The Washington Post reported.

The Post says members of Congress are working to get the ratification process going.

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority and former president of the National Organization for Women, said the group will gear up for the legal fight for the ERA ratification to be recognized.

“The arbitrary timeline put in the preamble of the ERA, which would not be in the Constitution, we believe is not binding,” Smeal said in a statement. “The national ERA campaign is going to continue to win even more states and to win ratification for state ERAs in state Constitutions. We are intent on finally getting the job done of winning full equality in this country.”

The Virginia General Assembly vote comes after a record number of women were elected to the legislature. Del. Eileen Filler-Corn became the first woman to be House of Delegates speaker in state history, and Del. Charniele Herring became the first African American and woman to be House majority leader.

When the push nationwide to adopt the ERA was underway in the early 1970s, women made up less than 3 percent of the members of Congress and less than 10 percent of state legislatures, said Feminist Majority.

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