The ERA Discharge Petition: Moving Forward

Elvert Barnes, Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

In January of 2023, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) introduced H.J.Res.25 in the House to remove the arbitrary deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. The resolution has 209 co-sponsors. At the same time, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced an identical resolution in the Senate, S.J.Res.4, with 53 co-sponsors. 

In order to force H.J.Res.25 to a vote, Rep. Pressley launched a discharge petition for the bill. Once a majority of the House, 218 members, have signed the discharge petition, “it must immediately be brought before the full chamber for a vote,” bypassing the Republican Speaker of the House. The discharge petition currently has 206 signers. Reps. Ed Case (HI-01) and Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05) are the most recent signers, adding their names on February 15th, 2024. Only 12 more members need to sign on to bring it to a vote.  

In 2023, the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. Magazine commissioned Lake Research Partners to conduct a survey to determine the influence of abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment in turning out the vote. The polling shows that the ERA will be one of driving forces in the 2024 election. Abortion and the ERA are both strong issues that increase voter turnout separately, but are even more powerful when combined. Messaging that includes both abortion access and the ERA is incredibly motivating in mobilizing voters, especially young women. 

The Feminist Majority Foundation, along with the ERA Coalition and its partners — which include the League of Women Voters, AAUW, YWCA, and more — have been working tirelessly to secure the signatures on the discharge petition and are very close to reaching a majority. FMF and the coalition intend to make this a top issue for the 2024 elections.

Background on the Equal Rights Amendment

The ERA “guarantees equality of rights under the law for all persons regardless of sex.” Simply put, the ERA would work to eradicate the second-class citizenship of women in America. After passing the 19th Amendment in 1920, which gave American women the right to vote, women’s suffrage leaders Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman drafted the original ERA to codify the rights for gender equality. The amendment was active in Congress from 1923 forward and was introduced in every session of Congress.

Rep. Shirley Chislom (D-NY) and Rep. Martha Griffiths (D-MI) helped lead the efforts in Congress that resulted in the ERA’s passing. In March 1972, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Emanuel Celler (D-NY), who had initially refused to hold a hearing discussing the ERA, gave the necessary room for both the House and Senate to pass “identical” bills to support making the ERA an official constitutional amendment. 

Although this was a tremendous win, Congress gave a seven-year deadline for three-fourths of states to ratify the ERA. In 1978, however, only 35 states had done so, rather than the 38 required. In 1977, Congress extended the deadline for ratification by three years, but the necessary 38 was not reached. Although there was much pushback, the salience of the ERA grew to the extent that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg successfully argued “for a jurisprudence of gender equality under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.” The ERA became something people could no longer ignore. 

Where is it now? 

Since the twentieth century, women’s rights activists have continued to keep the ERA in the national conversation. Now more than ever, the codification of this amendment has become vital in establishing a more equally representative democracy, made clear by Rep. Pressley’s passionate discharge petition fight in Congress. Sign4ERA, founded by former Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, has started a petition campaign to mobilize individuals across the nation to voice their support for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and urge Congress to act. You can add your name to the petition here.

Implications of the ERA 

The ERA would “affirm gender equality in our Constitution, enshrining the principle of equality and an explicit prohibition against sex discrimination in the nation’s foundational document.” The ERA is not simply granting equal rights in a superficial sense. Instead, it would “advance equality in the fields of workforce and pay, pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment and violence, reproductive autonomy, and protections for LGBTQ+ individuals,” especially with reproductive rights being a primary concern in the election. Put simply, the ERA represents the culmination of the longstanding struggle for equal treatment and rights that many Americans have ardently advocated for. Its significance should transcend the limitations of state-by-state recognition. As Congresswoman Pressley has passionately stated, “there should be no deadline on equality.”

Support eh ERA banner