#MeToo Era Breathes New Life Into Equal Rights Amendment Crusade

Nearly 40 years after amendment failed to garner support of three-quarters of states, activists remain optimistic

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., introduced a joint resolution in February 2017 to facilitate the ratification of the elusive Equal Rights Amendment. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As millions of women are speaking out against sexual predators as part of the #MeToo movement, prompting deeper discussions about the feminist movement at large, Equal Rights Amendment activists have renewed hope that they can finally secure the ratification of a 24-word amendment five decades after it first garnered the necessary majorities in the U.S. House and Senate.

“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 amendment states.

It fell three states short of the three-quarters majority needed to become law in 1982 after winning the requisite two-thirds  majority in the House and Senate in 1972.

Advocates for the ERA have worked ever since to keep the national spotlight on the amendment’s passage. As #MeToo stories sweep the nation, activists are saying now is the time to reconsider the ERA.

Watch: The #MeToo Impact on 2018

“People are really fired up,” Bettina Hager, the Washington, D.C., director of the ERA Coalition, a national group of organizations pushing for ratification, told Mother Jones. “There’s an energy that’s been there, but it’s magnified in this moment in time. There is an opportunity here.”

U.S. lawmakers who have led the crusade to reinvent how Congress approaches sexual assault cases and mandatory training are all-in on renewing the fight to get the ERA ratified.

Last February, Rep. Jackie Speier of California introduced a joint resolution to facilitate the ERA’s passage. 

“When asked, 96 percent of Americans think that women and men should have equal rights, and 88 percent believe that our Constitution should affirm those rights, while 72 percent of Americans mistakenly believe the Constitution already includes such a guarantee,” Speier said in a statement at the time.

“Given the current political climate, and the overwhelming support, it’s clear that the ERA is still a necessity,” she added.

The ERA’s detractors say the amendment is unnecessary. Title IX, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment all shield women from discrimination based on their sex.

When activists tried to bring the bill to the Virginia legislature last month, it was shot down. Illinois is the next target for another crack at ratification.

Even leading conservative legal thinkers have said sex discrimination remains uncovered by the Constitution, which ERA activists have used to amplify calls to codify protection.

“Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex," the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said in 2011. "The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”

Watch: Roll Call Reporters Discuss Covering Sexual Harassment on the Hill in the #MeToo Era

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