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Senate Will Vote on Ratifying 100-Year-Old Women’s Rights Amendment This Week

The amendment to establish equal rights for women is needed now more than ever, Schumer said.

Juli Briskman (2nd R), Algonkian District Supervisor of Loudoun County in Virginia, and Shannon Fisher (R) of the National Organization for Women listen during a news conference near the U.S. Capitol on September 28, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

This week, the Senate will vote on the ratification of a 100-year-old amendment to the Constitution aimed at enshrining equal rights for all genders into the U.S.’s founding documents — a move that gender equality advocates say is so long overdue that it may no longer hold any relevance outside of a symbolic win.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) announced this week that he is setting up a vote to move toward ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for Thursday. The amendment, which was originally introduced by suffragettes in 1923, amends the Constitution to ensure that the “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” as the amendment text reads.

The Senate resolution would remove a previously-set deadline of 1982 to ratify the amendment. The deadline was arbitrarily set and extended after the ERA was first sent to states for ratification in 1972.

“In this ominous hour of American history, the Equal Rights Amendment has never been as necessary and urgent as it is today,” Schumer said in a statement on Monday.

“The ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment would finally provide a constitutional remedy against sex discrimination — pushing our country one step closer to finally achieving equal justice under the law. It has been exactly 100 years since the first ERA was proposed in Congress. American women cannot afford to wait 100 more,” he said.

A constitutional amendment must be ratified by 75 percent of states, or 38 states, to be added to the Constitution. As of 1982, only 35 states had ratified the ERA, leaving it just three states short of ratification. Since then, three more states have ratified the amendment, with the last state being Virginia, in 2020 — but, because the deadline has passed, opponents like the Trump administration have said that it is no longer eligible to be ratified.

The House has previously passed legislation to remove the deadline for the ERA, but the legislation got stuck in the Senate due to the filibuster. It is unclear if it has the votes to pass this time around, but is unlikely.

The long history of the ERA means that the amendment comes with a significant amount of baggage. Lawsuits have left the status of the ERA in limbo, and legal questions remain over whether states are allowed to rescind their ratification, as several Republican-controlled states have done; even left-leaning and liberal commentators have questioned the legal pathway to ratifying the amendment nearly 50 years after states agreed to it.

As such, the vote is largely symbolic. But, some legal analysts say that even if the amendment was cleared for ratification, its inclusion in the Constitution may not change much of anything.

Some advocates have said that explicitly carving out protections for non-men in the Constitution could be crucial to scoring wins like restoring abortion rights; previous women’s rights decisions have relied on the 14th Amendment, which does not explicitly mention equality on the basis of sex and which people like right-wing former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said didn’t protect women. However, as others have pointed out, nothing short of a major overhaul of the judicial system will stop the Supreme Court and other right-wing judges’ streak of extremist judicial activism.

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