Could Virginia Be Set to Change the Constitution? Maybe

With its legislature in Democratic hands, it's expected to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 6, 2019 10:50 AM CST
Could Virginia Be Set to Change the Constitution? Maybe
In this Feb. 2, 1982, file photo, opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment listen to speakers during a demonstration at the Capitol in Richmond, Va.   (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Could Virginia's election results end up changing the US Constitution? Maybe. Democrats flipped both houses of the state legislature in Tuesday's election, giving them control of both the legislature and the governorship for the first time in 26 years—and they say they'll use that control to finally ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which would guarantee legal gender equality for women and men under the Constitution. Only 37 states have done so since it was passed by Congress in 1972, and Virginia would tip the figure into the necessary "three-fourths" realm of 38 states. But that still might not be enough. What you need to know:

  • The timeline: The ERA, written by suffragist Alice Paul, was first proposed in 1923. It was passed in 1972, with Congress setting a ratification deadline of 1982, reports the AP. That passed deadline has those opposed to the ERA saying the amendment is no longer able to be ratified. Those for it say Congress could rectify that by voting to extend the deadline, though with Republicans in control of the Senate, that's unlikely to happen now. There's a good chance it'll end up before the Supreme Court. FYI, 35 states ratified it by 1982; Nevada ratified it in 2017. Illinois did so a year later.
  • What else opponents say: That it's unnecessary for one, because the 14th Amendment grants all US citizens "equal protection of the laws." They also point to the fact that five of the states that did ratify it subsequently rescinded that decision.

  • But: Attorney Kate Kelly, who's host of a soon-to-launch ERA podcast, tweets that "5 states *attempted* to rescind but rescissions are per se unconstitutional AND the deadline was *already* extended once by Congress from 1979 to 1982—so they can change it again."
  • But II: Kelly also outlines rights women don't currently have that they would under the ERA, among them the right to equal pay and the right to be free from violence.
  • Virginia's history: The state Senate voted to move the ERA forward earlier this year, but it was blocked from a full floor vote by the House of Delegates, reports CNN. The AP provides a deeper history, noting state lawmakers at one point voted down ERA ratification measures 10 years consecutively and pointing out the state didn't ratify the 19th Amendment until three decades after women gained the right to vote.
  • Late night's take: In a June Last Week Tonight segment, John Oliver put it like so: "It's one of those things that's so obvious you assume we already have it. It's like when you see baking soda at the store. You think, 'I don't need to buy baking soda. I definitely already have baking soda. It's a staple.’ And then you get home and you're baking a cake and you reach in the cupboard for baking soda and you realize, 'F---! Women still aren't guaranteed equal rights under the Constitution.'"
  • Another take: At the Week, Peter Weber writes that Mitch McConnell "is probably up to the task of thwarting legislation to extend or eliminate the deadline. But the ERA has been under consideration for nearly 100 years, and if Virginia ratifies it, the amendment can outwait the senior senator from Kentucky, too."
  • More of what ERA critics have said: The National Review has published a bevy of pieces on this in the recent past, including "The Equal Rights Amendment Is a Feminist Ruse" and "The Equal Rights Amendment Is Deader than Marley's Ghost."
(More Equal Rights Amendment stories.)

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