Equal Rights Amendment

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Equal Rights Amendment

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was the most highly publicized and debated constitutional amendment before the United States for most of the 1970s and early 1980s. First submitted by Congress to the states for ratification on March 22, 1972, it failed to be ratified by its final deadline of June 30, 1982. If ratified, the ERA would have become the Twenty-Seventh Amendment to the Constitution. The proposed addition would have read, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

The ERA was written by alice paul, of the National Woman's Party, and was first introduced in Congress in 1923. No action on the amendment was taken until the National Organization for Women, which was founded in 1966, revived interest in it.

When the amendment was first submitted to the states in 1972, Congress prescribed a deadline of seven years for ratification. Because an amendment must be ratified by the legislatures or conventions of three-fourths of the states, the ERA required approval by thirty-eight states.

Advocates of the ERA intended it to give women constitutional protection beyond the Equal Protection Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. They believed that the ERA would compensate for inadequate statutory protections for women and sluggish judicial enforcement of existing laws. According to a report that accompanied passage of the ERA resolution in the House, the ERA was necessary because "our legal system currently contains the vestiges of a variety of ancient Common Law principles which discriminate unfairly against women" (H.R. Rep. No. 92-359, 92d Cong. [1971]). These vestigial principles, the report argued, gave preferential treatment to husbands over wives, created a double standard by giving men greater freedom than women to depart from moral standards, and used "obsolete and irrational notions of chivalry" that "regard women in a patronizing or condescending light."

The ERA encountered significant opposition, particularly in southern states. Opponents of the amendment held that certain inequalities between men and women are the result of biology and that some legislation and state policies must necessarily take this fact into account. Some also contended that the ERA would undermine the social institutions of marriage and family. Others argued that women already had sufficient constitutional protections and that the ERA was made unnecessary by recent liberal Supreme Court decisions, including frontiero v. richardson, 411 U.S. 677, 93 S. Ct. 1764, 36 L. Ed. 2d 583 (1973), which struck down a federal law that gave preferential treatment to married males over married females in securing salary supplements while in the Armed Services.

Frontiero also serves as an example of the way in which the ERA influenced the Supreme Court. In a concurring opinion, Justice lewis f. powell jr. cited the pending ERA ratification as a reason to delay gender-related constitutional interpretation. He favored waiting for the results of the ERA's ratification process so that the political process might guide the Court's constitutional interpretation.

By 1973, less than two years after its submission to the states, thirty states had ratified the ERA, and the success of the measure seemed likely. Only five more states ratified the measure, however, by the end of the seven-year deadline, leaving it three states short in its bid to become law. In June 1979, Congress extended the ratification deadline to June 30, 1982. During the extension, ERA supporters organized economic boycotts of states that failed to ratify the amendment. Despite all these efforts, and even though public opinion polls indicated that a majority of U.S. citizens supported the measure, no more states ratified the ERA.

Supporters of the ERA reintroduced the amendment in Congress yet again on July 14, 1982. The House of Representatives voted down the proposal on November 15, 1983.

Further readings

Corwin, Edward S. 1978. The Constitution and What it Means Today. 14th ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press.

Daughtrey, Martha Craig. 2000. "Women and the Constitution: Where We Are at the End of the Century." New York University Law Review 75 (April): 1–25.

Schwarzenbach, Sibyl A., and Patricia Smith, ed. 2004. Women and the United States Constitution: History, Interpretation, and Practice: A Collection of Essays. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.


Equal Protection; Women's Rights.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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