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New York AG leads push to recognize ERA

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., joined from left by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other congressional Democrats, holds up a copy of the Constitution during an event about their resolution to remove the deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., joined from left by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other congressional Democrats, holds up a copy of the Constitution during an event about their resolution to remove the deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

New York Attorney General Letitia James is leading a coalition of 19 attorneys general and one governor in a fight to recognize the Equal Rights Amendment as the 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

An amendment requires three-quarters of states to ratify. On Jan. 27, 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, providing the final vote needed to ratify the ERA, but the federal government has refused to certify the amendment on the grounds that a deadline for ratification imposed by Congress has passed.

On Feb. 13, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 232-182 to pass HJ Res 79, the joint resolution to remove the original time limit assigned to the Equal Rights Amendment. Voting against the resolution locally was Republican Rep. John Katko from the 24th district.

The last three states to ratify the ERA — Nevada, Illinois and Virginia — have sued to compel the government to recognize the new amendment, arguing that the deadline was invalid. The amicus brief argues that the plaintiff states’ ratifications are valid, that attempts by five states to rescind their earlier ratifications are invalid and that the ERA should be duly certified as an amendment.

“The ratification of the ERA is long overdue, and the Trump administration’s attempts to block our efforts once again display the president’s disrespect and contempt for equality,” James said in a statement last week. “A century after the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the constitutional right to vote, we are still waiting for our nation to bat down discrimination against women and recognize equal rights and protections. I proudly stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the women across this nation calling for equal treatment under the law, and our coalition will continue to fight to ensure that call becomes a reality.”

In addition to New York State, the coalition consists of AGs from Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia and Gov. Laura Kelly from the state of Kansas.

The ERA is designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. It seeks to end the legal distinctions between men and women in terms of divorce, property, employment and other matters.

The first iteration of the ERA was introduced by Alice Paul in 1923. Paul was in Seneca Falls for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the 1848 Woman’s Rights Convention when she introduced the “Lucretia Mott Amendment,” as the amendment was called at the time. It said: “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.” The amendment was introduced in Congress the same year.

In the early 1940s, the ERA received bipartisan support when both the Republican and Democratic parties added it to their political platforms. Paul rewrote the ERA in 1943 as the Alice Paul Amendment to better reflect the language in both the 15th and the 19th Amendments. The new version stated: “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 passed the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, and on March 22, 1972, the proposed 27th Amendment to the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification. But Congress placed a seven-year deadline on the ratification process. The time limit was placed not in the words of the ERA itself, but in the proposing clause, according to the Alice Paul Institute, a New Jersey nonprofit that works to promote gender equality.

When the deadline for ratification arrived on June 30, 1982, the Equal Rights Amendment was three states shy of the necessary 38 states for full ratification. The Equal Rights Amendment was reintroduced in Congress on July 14, 1982 and has been introduced before every session of Congress since then as the movement to ratify the ERA continues.

The National Organization for Women has been supportive of passage of the ERA since the beginning, said Greater Rochester Chapter President Sarah Timmerman.

“We’ve been working in the states to get it ratified and definitely support this renewed effort by the different attorneys general, including New York State Attorney General Tish James,” Timmerman said. “We do believe there is a legal basis for ratifying the ERA as it stands. We know there are congressional committees that could declare the deadline null if they would like.”

In fact, the 27th amendment, which pertains to congressional pay increases, was proposed in 1789 and ratified 202 years later, in 1992. That amendment had no time limit on ratification.

In terms of the ERA, what would be the 28th amendment, under orders from the Department of Justice, the archivist of the U.S. that is responsible for certifying amendments denied the states’ efforts to recognize the complete and final adoption of the amendment based on the Justice Department’s opinion that the deadline Congress imposed for state ratification is valid and expired decades ago, James’ office explained.

The amicus brief argues that Congress lacked authority to impose a seven-year ratification deadline in its joint resolution proposing the ERA. Congress’ attempt to impose the constraint on the states’ right to ratify proposed amendments is not authorized by the text of Article V — which indicates that amendments shall be valid “when ratified,” without further qualification — and conflicts with the original understanding of Article V, according to the brief.

The amicus brief also highlights that while five states have claimed to rescind their ratification votes, Article V gives states the right to ratify proposed amendments but does not grant the right to rescind a ratification once submitted.

Although laws exist to ensure equal pay for equal work, experts say the ERA takes that a step further, protecting women from disparate treatment on the job.

“The Pay Equity Coalition of Rochester supports not only equal pay but we support pay equity,” said Monroe County Legislator Yversha Roman, who co-founded the Pay Equity Coalition. “One of the things we like to talk about is the difference between being paid the same and being treated the same through pay. Sometimes that comes in the form of benefits or perks of the position oftentimes not granted to women or persons of color during the negotiation phase.

“We want to make sure that when we talk about pay we’re talking about more than just salary,” Roman added. That may include training and education on the job, tools necessary to perform the job and even promotions.

“Promotions aren’t granted to women or to people of color as much as their white male counterparts,” she explained. “So it’s more than just the pay, it’s the opportunity that comes with some of those benefits.”

Timmerman noted that the Supreme Court, for example, uses the constitution as the basis of its decisions, thus an amendment addressing equality for women would have more clout than laws addressing the issue.

“The Supreme Court has ruled different ways on a lot of different issues and they really focus on what’s specifically in the constitution,” Timmerman said. “We feel it needs to be specifically put in the constitution so that the Supreme Court can’t dismiss claims, and instead they have to honor what is in the constitution.”

Timmerman said it is important to note that there are serious economic implications for women in the ERA.

“And it’s not just something in terms of socialist views. It’s also equal pensions. It’s equal insurance coverage. It’s equal rights in the employment field,” she said. “It really touches everything and is not a niche social thing. It really is full equality in the workplace. We believe that was a big reason it didn’t pass, because employers did not want to give equal retirement packages, equal benefit packages to their employees.”

vspicer@bridgetowermedia.com / 585-653-4021 / @Velvet_Spicer

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