States sue to have ERA recognized as 28th amendment

Devon Hartsough (2nd R) and Keyanna Wigglesworth (R) of the Alice Paul Institute join members of Congress and representatives of women's groups for a rally to mark the 40th anniversary of congressional passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) outside the U.S. Capitol March 22, 2012 in Washington, DC. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a new version of the Equal Rights Amendment last year and called for it to be passed again. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Nevada, Virginia and Illinois are fighting to ensure the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) becomes the 28th Amendment to the Constitution. 

Virginia voted last month to ratify the ERA, securing the required number of 38 states needed for it to be adopted as a Constitutional amendment. Michigan ratified the ERA more than 40 years ago, on May 22, 1972.

But the National Archives and Records Administration said it would take no action. 

So Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul filed a lawsuit late last month with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to compel the U.S. Archivist to recognize the ratification of the amendment. 

Virginia approved the ERA. Now what’s the holdup?

“We’ve waited too long already and it is shameless to wait a moment longer,” said Carol Jenkins, CEO of the ERA Coalition Fund for Women’s Equality during a press call. 

First introduced in 1923 and then passed by Congress in 1972, the Constitutional amendment that would guarantee the “equality of all rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” 

While Congress passed the ERA, the amendment failed to get the required 38 states needed in order to be ratified before the 1979 deadline. In 2018, Illinois became the 37th state and this week Virginia became the 38th, and final, state to ratify the Amendment. 

“Equal rights are not contingent upon a person’s gender or sex, which is why I was proud to vote in support of the Equal Rights Amendment as an Illinois state senator, and I am committed to continuing to fight for the ERA to be recognized as the 28th Amendment,” Raoul said. “It is past time that we ensure women across the country have the constitutional equality to which they are entitled, and I look forward to my daughter — who aspires to study law — being able to one day, when sworn into the bar, take an oath to promise to support a constitution that recognizes her right to equality under the law.”

The ERA could finally become a reality. Here’s a look back at Michigan women’s fight for equality.

There are still obstacles along the way to having the amendment recognized. The Trump U.S. Department of Justice, from which the U.S. Archivist is taking its lead, is arguing the Amendment process has to start from the beginning. 

Nebraska, Tennessee, Idaho, Kentucky and South Dakota have voted to rescind their state’s previous ratification of the ERA.

However, the three attorneys general from Nevada, Illinois and Virginia argue there is no mechanism that authorizes states to withdraw. All three said they are prepared to argue this all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where they say the law, and history, is on their side. 

“Women have always been endowed with equal rights, even though our country has wrongly failed to recognize them,” Ford said. “These rights are entitled to their rightful place in the Constitution, and I am committed to ensuring they are permanently written into our nation’s history and its future. Advancing civil rights is one of my Administration’s main areas of focus. The gravity of this movement should not be underplayed — today we are advocating for women’s rights here in Nevada and all over the country, and we are taking an essential stride towards inclusivity.”

Nessel, Democratic AGs blast GOP lawsuit to stop the ERA

There’s also a lawsuit filed on Dec. 17 by Republican attorneys general in three states, Alabama, Louisiana and South Dakota that argues that the deadline for ratification has expired. The Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) executive committee condemned the lawsuit, something backed by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

“Inequality doesn’t just hurt women; it hurts the families we help support, the places where we work, and the communities where we live,” Nessel told the Advance last month. “That’s why gender equality isn’t just a women’s rights issue; it’s a human rights issue.”

Many opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment contend it would somehow undo “traditional” society, or that it’s simply not needed anymore. 

“I find it laughable that people born into privilege always debate if those who were not (born into privilege) deserve it,” Nevada state Sen. Pat Spearman said in April 2019 in a fiery testimony in front of the House Judiciary subcommittee. “Equality is not a debate. We are born with it. The only thing we are asking with the ERA is we acknowledge the fact that women are born equal to men.”

A version of this story first ran in the Advance‘s sister publication, the Nevada Current.

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle is a reporter for the Nevada Current. He has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit.
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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.