WASHINGTON (CN) — The Equal Rights Amendment inched one step closer to becoming the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as the House voted 232-183 Thursday to remove a deadline standing in the way of ratification.
U.S. Representative Jennifer Wexton presided over the historic vote and her placement Thursday was significant: The Virginia congresswoman was elected in 2018 as part of the freshman Democrat class who flipped the full House to a Democrat majority and turned red strongholds in her state blue.
Virginia last month also became the latest state — and final one needed per the three-fourths threshold — to ratify the law commonly shortened to ERA.
“This was not simply symbolic,” Wexton said of Virginia’s passage of the amendment that ultimately catalyzed Thursday’s long-awaited vote. “Affirming equality in the Constitution will strengthen state and federal laws that protect women. ... It must be a constitutional right for women, not just an inscription above the entrance to the Supreme Court.”
The Equal Rights Amendment consists of just two dozen words: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
Its supporters have been fighting for ratification since 1923 when suffragist Alice Paul first introduced the ERA to Congress. For 40 years the bill languished in committee before the first black woman elected to Congress, Shirley Chisholm, renewed fervor around it.
By 1970, the first woman elected to the House Committee on Ways and Means, Representative Marcia Griffiths, D-Mich., managed to kick the ERA out of its confinement in committee and force a full vote on the House floor — the same floor where Wexton and others presided Thursday.
For decades, however, the bill has remained in limbo thanks to a deadline included by the Senate when it approved the ERA in 1972, giving states just seven years to ratify or see the amendment killed. Virginia sealed the 38-state majority this year — incidentally, the same year that women’s suffrage reaches its 100th anniversary.
The passage of H.J. Res. 79 on Thursday removes the 1982 deadline that was established after the seven-year limit first ran out. With passage in the House successful, the next step toward codification into the Constitution is to secure S.J. Res. 6 in the Senate.
The Senate resolution already enjoys some bipartisan support from Republicans including Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, but whether the women will be able to whip the requisite votes for passage remains to be seen. There is no assistance expected from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who roundly dismissed the ERA during a press conference on Feb. 5.
Opponents to the amendment mostly take issue with the ratification deadline, arguing that because the majority of states needed to ratify failed to do so when the time limit first came up, Congress does not have the authority to backtrack and remove the expiration date now.
“House Democrats are trying to retroactively revive the failed Congress,” Representative Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican, said Thursday. “Congress doesn’t have the right to do it. It did not pass. It did not get approved. Now there is an end run to go around that.”
Each time this argument was presented at debate Thursday, Representative Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, would repeat the same refrain: