The ERA Discharge Petition: Where Does It Stand?

On July 18, 2023, Congresswoman Ayanna Presley (MA-07) motioned to discharge the Joint Resolution Equal Rights Amendment Act, supported by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI), as well as Congresswomen Madeleine Dean (PA-04), Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), Cori Bush (MO-01), Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), and Sydney Kamlager-Dove (CA-37), from the committee and to the House floor. 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 Speaker of the House. 

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, which gave American women the right to vote, the women’s suffrage movement leaders, Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, drafted the original ERA to codify the rights for gender equality. This legislation was met with much contention, so much so that until the 1970s, it was not recognized as a “top legislative priority.” 

It would be irresponsible to fail to mention the efforts of Rep. Shirley Chislom (D-NY) and Rep. Martha Griffiths (D-MI), who were responsible for reviving the efforts surrounding 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 Amendment. In 1978, however, only 35 states had done so, rather than the 38 required. However, in 1977, Congress extended the deadline for ratification by three years, but no new states ratified the ERA. Instead, five states that had given their support to the amendment, Nebraska, Tennessee, Idaho, Kentucky, and South Dakota, rescinded. 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? 

We are now in February 2024, and the Amendment still needs to be codified into the United States Constitution. Since the twentieth century, women’s rights activists continue 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. Since the motion to discharge in 2023, the petition has gained 204 signatures, with Rep. Sharice Davids of Nebraska District 3 being the latest signator as of January 2024. Only 14 more members need to sign on to force it to a vote.   

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.”

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