This month marks the the 50th anniversary of the Equal Rights Amendment’s passage in the House of Representatives. On Thursday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee held a historic hearing about the amendment to examine the final steps necessary to certify.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who chairs the committee, began the hearing outlining how the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has met all requirements for the adoption of a United States constitutional amendment. First proposed in 1923, the ERA was eventually ratified by two-thirds of both houses of Congress and by three-fourths of the states—or 38 states. The final hurdle that remains: certification by the national archivist and publication as the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
After a year marked by the pandemic she-cession, infringements on abortion rights in Texas and by the Supreme Court, and a record-breaking year for violence against women and the trans community, the ERA will provide a much-needed foundational legal protection against gender-based discrimination.
“The ERA is not merely a symbol,” said Maloney. “It will make a real difference in the lives of women and people who have faced discrimination, sexual violence and unequal pay.”
Maloney originally ran for office on the platform of passing the ERA and has pushed for its passage throughout her career. The ERA has the steadfast support of the House Women’s Caucus. Reps. Brenda Lawrence, Women’s Caucus co-chair, and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) both joined Maloney and other lawmakers in emphasizing the urgent need for the ERA.
Eleanor Smeal, president of Feminist Majority and Feminist Majority Foundation, testified in favor of the ERA: “I’m frequently asked, ‘What makes you continue to fight for so many years?’ I am not a lawyer. But I have lived most of my adult life fighting against blatant sex discrimination and I know that far too often sex discrimination prevails. Far too many suffer with no recourse for justice. … We have weak constitutional rights to fight sex discrimination at the national level and in most states.”
Smeal was joined by actor-activist Alyssa Milano; Virginia state Senator Jennifer McClellan; president and CEO of the ERA Coalition Carol Jenkins; founder of the TransLatin@ Coalition Bamby Salcedo; and legal scholar Victoria Nourse.
“We have no national legislation that will serve as a protection for all people,” Salcedo said in her testimony. A trans Latina woman, she said the Equality Act and other legislative protections are not enough: “The truth is that the Equality Act does not look at all the intersections across my life, and will not provide constitutional equality.”
“Women of color and Black women in particular have always been at the forefront of this movement,” Jenkins said in her testimony. “Shirley Chisholm gave a fiery testimony right here on the House floor in support of the Equal Rights Amendment—her support for the amendment led the way for passage of the ERA in the House of Representatives the following year, 50 years ago.”
During her allotted time, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) emphasized how the ERA is critically needed to end discrimination against Black women and girls. Black women are “more likely to be evicted, be underpaid, die during childbirth, lack access to abortion, and be victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and police brutality,” said Bush. “Racial inequality is a crisis in this country, and it’s crucial that we recognize and acknowledge the impact the ERA would have on our communities.”
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) called the narrative that the ERA is a white women’s issue “a false narrative.” “We’ve seen this throughout history, in an effort to erase the women of color who have served as trailblazers, table shakers and justice seekers in the fight for gender equality.”
In her remarks, Milano made clear: “While I will speak briefly on the importance of the ERA, this hearing is not a debate on that amendment. That debate is over. We won.”
In October of 1971, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and the Senate passed it the following year. However, The initial effort to ratify the ERA in the 1970s fell three states short, with an arbitrary time limit included in the bill’s preamble. A revitalized push for the ERA in recent years led to the amendment’s being ratified by three additional states: Nevada in 2017, Illinois in 2018 and Virginia in 2020.
In February of 2020, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill dissolving the timeline for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. In the Senate, then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a vote on the bill, which to this day remains stalled in committee.