Federal Judge Rules States Missed Deadline to Ratify Equal Rights Amendment

Equal Rights Amendment supporters demonstrate outside Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Va., early last year. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

(CN) — A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit from three states that wanted the federal government to recognize Virginia’s vote to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, ruling that the deadline to do so had already passed.

The Equal Rights Amendment, passed by Congress in 1972, would amend the Constitution with the following passage:  “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or a abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”

Three Democratic attorneys general from Illinois, Nevada and Virginia had argued that the deadline set by Congress, set for 1979 and then extended to 1982, does not apply since the Constitution does not specify a time limit on ratification. 

They said Virginia’s vote would be enough to amend the Constitution and sued after the Archivist of the United States refused to publish and certify the amendment. The decision by the archivist was made following a January 2020 opinion by the Justice Department that said Virginia’s vote was too late.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras, an Obama appointee to the federal court in Washington, disagreed with the states’ arguments, saying in a 37-page opinion that the states lacked standing to sue the archivist since the “publication and certification of an amendment are formalities with no legal effect.”

“Second, even if Plaintiffs had standing, Congress set deadlines for ratifying the ERA that expired long ago. Plaintiffs’ ratifications came too late to count,” he wrote.

Judge Contreras said that Congress has long set deadlines for the ratification process.

“Congress began to set ratification deadlines with the Eighteenth Amendment in 1917 and, with the exception of the Nineteenth Amendment, has included a deadline in every proposed amendment since,” the ruling states.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement Friday night that he is considering an appeal of the decision.

“While I do not believe that the arbitrary deadline Congress imposed on the Equal Rights Amendment is binding in any way, I welcome any support from both the Biden Administration and Congress in ensuring that this amendment is recognized as part of the Constitution once and for all,” Herring said.

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said in a statement he was disappointed by the judge’s ruling.

“Unfortunately, today’s decision requires women to continue waiting. Though I’m disheartened by this decision, all women can rest assured that, regardless of this court’s decision, my fight for your equal rights does not end today, tomorrow, or any day,” he said.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment made after business hours.

Opponents of the amendment include anti-abortion groups who believe it could be used to get rid of abortion restrictions on the basis of discrimination against women.

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