This is the fifth installment of a series about unratified constitutional amendments. Today we’re looking at an amendment that was first introduced nearly 100 years ago and we’re still talking about today: The Equal Rights Amendment.
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is a proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee equal rights under the law regardless of sex. It was first drafted in 1923 by suffragist Alice Paul, and since then some version of the ERA was introduced in every session of Congress until 1971.
In 1971, Representative Martha Griffiths introduced H.J. Res. 208, proposing an Equal Rights Amendment. The text read:
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
While previous attempts to pass the ERA rarely got out of committee, H.J. Res. 208 not only made it to the floor, it was successful. On October 12, 1971, the House approved Griffiths’s version of the ERA by a vote of 354–24. The Senate approved an identical version on March 22, 1972, by a vote of 84–8.
Congress then sent the ERA to the states but included a seven-year deadline for ratification. In 1978, with the seven-year deadline approaching, the ERA was three states short of reaching the required three-fourths mark. Congress decided to extend the time limit to June 30, 1982; however, no additional states ratified the amendment during its extension.
Controversy surrounding the Equal Rights Amendment persists today. Despite failing to garner enough states by the deadline, three additional states have ratified the amendment in recent year’s putting the status of the amendment into question.
The Archivist of the United States has statutory responsibilities regarding certifications of constitutional amendments. Because of the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the ERA, the National Archives requested guidance from the Department of Justice on the legal issues regarding ratification of the amendment.
In January 2020, the Department of Justice issued its opinion, concluding “that Congress had the constitutional authority to impose a deadline on the ratification of the ERA and, because that deadline has expired, the ERA Resolution is no longer pending before the States.”
The National Archives issued a press release on the current status of the ERA, saying the Archivist will abide by the Justice Department’s opinion unless otherwise directed by a final court order.
Our next, and final, post in the series is about the 1978 DC Voting Rights amendment.