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Equal Rights Amendment

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.

cross-references

Equal Protection; Women's Rights.

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Equal Rights Amendment

EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT

EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT. Drafted by Alice Paul, a leader of the National Woman's Party, and first proposed as an addition to the U.S. Constitution in 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) stated that "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." Supporters argued that the Constitution must include the principle of equality of rights for women and that such an amendment would remove sex-based discrimination. Opponents of women's rights objected, as did some women's rights advocates who feared it would jeopardize recent legislation providing female industrial workers minimum protection against exploitative working conditions. The Supreme Court had upheld protective legislation for women in Muller v. Oregon (1908), claiming the need to protect citizens able to bear children. Convinced that Congress would not extend labor protections to men and that the Court would therefore deny it to women if the amendment passed, organized labor opposed the ERA. It remained bottled up in the House Judiciary Committee for forty-seven years, despite efforts to secure passage.

The 1960s brought renewed attention to the amendment. Although women's roles in the economy had changed, hopes had faded that the Supreme Court would use the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to subject laws that discriminated on the basis of sex to the same strict scrutiny applied to laws discriminating on the basis of race. Thus, when protective legislation was revealed to have harmed the very group it was intended to protect, liberal feminists had an additional reason for urging passage of the ERA. After a massive lobbying campaign, Congress, in March 1972, voted overwhelmingly to submit to the states a revised version of the ERA for ratification within seven years. Twenty-two states rushed to ratify, but, by 1975, momentum had slowed. As the ratification deadline approached, Congress extended it by three years, to 30 June 1982. Even after this extension, supporters could secure favorable votes from only thirty-five of the thirty-eight states needed for passage. Five states, meanwhile, rescinded their endorsements. In December 1981 a federal judge ruled that those rescissions were legal and that Congress had acted illegally in extending the ratification deadline. Before ERA supporters could appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, however, the deadline for ratification expired, leaving opponents of the amendment victorious.

Opposition to the ERA in the 1970s and 1980s differed in important ways from that encountered in previous decades. Conservative legislators, mostly in southern and western states, voted against the amendment. They believed it would mean an intrusion of federal power that would diminish their ability to govern and would interfere with the right of individuals to live as they chose. Such politicians could vote according to their apprehensions and still claim to be responsive to the wishes of female constituents who opposed the amendment. Another factor was the skill with which far-right activists transformed popular perceptions of the amendment. By equating ERA and feminism, especially radical feminism, and making it appear dangerous to women, opponents succeeded in eroding the national consensus for the amendment. Although some states passed equal rights amendments to their own constitutions in the 1970s, efforts to secure congressional passage of a new federal amendment failed.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Becker, Susan D. Origins of the Equal Rights Amendment. West-port, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981.

Berry, Mary Frances. Why ERA Failed: Politics, Women's Rights, and the Amending Process of the Constitution. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

Hoff-Wilson, Joan, ed. Rights of Passage: The Past and Future of the ERA. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

Mansbridge, Jane. Why We Lost the ERA. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

Whitney, Sharon. The Equal Rights Amendments. New York: Watts, 1984.

Jane SherronDe Hart/c. p.

See alsoDiscrimination: Sex ; Frontiero v. Richardson ; Muller v. Oregon ; Women's Rights Movement: The Twentieth Century ; and vol. 9: NOW Statement of Purpose .

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Equal Rights Amendment

Equal Rights Amendment: see civil rights; feminism.

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"Equal Rights Amendment." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/equal-rights-amendment