The Equal Rights Amendment – A Brief History

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By Sarah Jane Morrison, Staff Writer

            Recently, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called for a “start over” attempt to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (“ERA”). [1] The proposed text of the ERA is as follows: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” [2] First introduced in 1923, the drafter’s intent was to eliminate gender-based legal discrimination in the United States. [3]

The procedures for amending the United States Constitution are set forth in Article V, which provides that an amendment may be proposed either by Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representative and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures. [4] To date, no amendment has been enacted via a constitutional convention. [5] Once Congress proposes an amendment, it is sent to the states and if it is ratified by three-fourths (38 of 50) of states, the proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution. [6]

The first version of the ERA, introduced in 1923, stated that  “men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.” [7] This proposal came only three years after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, which gave women the right to vote. [8] The Nineteenth Amendment was initially proposed in 1878, some 42 years prior to its ratification. [9] To date, the ERA has not yet been ratified to the Constitution – ninety-seven years after it was initially proposed. [10]

It was in 1972 that the ERA, in the revised language, passed the United States Senate and House of Representatives and was thus passed to the states for ratification. [11] Historically, Congress has imposed a seven-year deadline on amendments to be ratified by the states or to fail. [12] When the amendment was first passed to the states, it spread like wildfire but it quickly died off. In the first year, 22 states ratified; in the second year, the number dropped to four, followed by three in the third year, and only one in the fourth year. [13]

The ERA met similar resistance by organized groups that the Nineteenth Amendment had encountered. [14] Anti-suffragists argued that women did not have the time to vote or to stay updated on politics. [15] Additionally, those opposed to the Nineteenth Amendment argued that women lacked the mental capacity to offer useful opinions on political issues. [16] In the same vein, those opposed to the ERA argued that women belonged in the home and did not have the same mental aptitude requisite to compete in the work force as their male counterparts. [17]

As the seven-year period drew to a close without enough states to ratify the amendment, the National Organization of Women conducted a march on Washington, D.C. which ultimately pressured Congress into granting an extension for three more years. [18] However, by the time the revised deadline arrived, the ERA was three states shy of the necessary thirty-eight it needed for ratification. [19]

At first, it appeared that the ERA had failed despite 60 years of effort to have it passed. However, in 2017, Nevada became the first state since 1977 to ratify the ERA, giving hope again to those who believe in its ratification. [20] Then, in January 2020, Virginia became the 38th state, the requisite number of states necessary, to pass the ERA into amendment of the Constitution. [21] Today, proponents of the ERA are pushing Congress to remove the deadline and allow the ERA to pass. [22]

Despite a history of being outspoken about equality, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is quoted as saying, “There’s too much controversy about latecomers,” and therefore called for a do-over. [23] Although it is speculation, it appears that the Justice’s trepidation regarding the ERA stems from a concern over lack of uniform support for the ERA nationwide.






[5] Id.

[6] Id.



[9] Id.



[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.


[16] Id.


[18] Id.

[19] Id.



[22] Id.


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