Congresswomen Demand Action on Equal Rights Amendment

Congresswomen Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) took to the House floor yesterday to urge for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which would grant constitutional protection from discrimination based on sex.

Citing “enduring bias and discrimination” against women, Congresswoman Watson Coleman emphasized that the ERA would provide constitutional grounding to enact more proactive legislation to protect women’s rights. In particular, Watson Coleman noted that the ERA would allow Congress to restore a provision of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that allowed survivors to hold perpetrators and enablers of gender-based violence liable for damages, even if the state would not criminally prosecute. The Supreme Court invalidated this portion of VAWA in 2000, finding that Congress lacked the constitutional authority to enact the provision.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, the lead sponsor of the ERA in the House, joined Watson Coleman on the floor during the “special order hour.” Watson Coleman has pledged to use the special order hour, when members of the House can speak on any topic they wish, every month to highlight the ERA. “We’ll keep coming back until its done,” Watson Coleman pledged.

Maloney, who proclaimed women’s equality a “fundamental right,” used her time on the House floor to highlight gender-based pay discrimination and its impact on the financial stability of women and families, as well as its negative impact on economic growth. Women, on average, are still paid only 79 cents to a man’s dollar, but the pay gap is particularly onerous for some women of color. African American women, for example, are paid 60 cents, and Latinas only 55 cents, for every dollar paid to a white man, according to a report released last month by the U.S. Congressional Joint Economic Committee (JEC), of which Maloney is the ranking member.

The persistence of gender-based discrimination in every sector, noted Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, demonstrates that an ERA is needed now as much as ever. According to Jackson Lee, the ERA “pierces the veil” of this discrimination and clarifies, in a way that the existing legal landscape does not, that every level of government—from the federal government to local city councils—”must adhere to the constitution as it relates to women.”

Currently, the ERA has 187 cosponsors in the House. Also pending is a resolution sponsored by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) to rescind the timeline for ratification contained in the preamble of the original ERA, that passed both the House and Senate in 1972. That resolution has 163 cosponsors. Both resolutions have Senate companions.

After it passes in Congress, a proposed amendment must be ratified by 38 states before it can be added to the U.S. Constitution. Originally, the preamble of the ERA contained a seven-year deadline on the ratification process. By 1977, thirty-five states had ratified the amendment, but with the deadline approaching, tens of thousands of activists, led by the National Organization for Women, took to the streets to demand the deadline be removed. Congress eventually extended the deadline, but only to June 30, 1982, but opposition to the ERA managed to hold back ratification in the remaining states. When the deadline expired, the campaign remained three states short.

Grassroots activists, however, have continued to push for ratification of the ERA in unratified states, most recently in Illinois, where the state Senate voted for ratification in 2014, Virginia, whose state Senate has voted for ratification for the fifth time in 2016, and in North Carolina where the ERA-NC Alliance just launched in April 2016.

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