New caucus continues 100-year-long fight for Equal Rights Amendment

Congresswomen Cori Bush and Ayanna Pressley launched a first-of-its-kind Congressional Caucus to champion the Equal Rights Amendment

Democratic Congresswomen Cori Bush and Ayanna Pressley launched a new congressional caucus with the goal of establishing the Equal Rights Amendment as the 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution and women across the country are praising their effort.

The caucus was launched exactly 100 years after the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was first introduced in Congress in 1923 to commemorate the centennial of the struggle for constitutional gender equality.

“We’re here because, from the start, people like me and many of my constituents were intentionally written out of our nation’s founding document,” Bush told a crowd outside the United States Capitol. “That ain’t right! The absence of foundational equality allows discrimination to persist and injustice to fester.”

The caucus aims to affirm the Equal Rights Amendment as the 28th amendment to the Constitution; raise awareness in Congress to establish constitutional gender equality as a national priority; partner with an inclusive intergenerational, multi-racial coalition of advocates, activists, scholars, organizers, and public figures; and center the people who stand to benefit the most from gender equality, including Black and brown women, LGBTQ+ people, people seeking abortion care, and other marginalized groups.

“Congress arbitrarily inserted a time limit for ratification when it passed the ERA in 1972,” said New Jersey civil rights advocate Lisa McCormick. “Even though the ERA has met all the constitutional requirements for making it both valid and enforceable, it has yet to be published as part of the Constitution. There should be no time limit on equality.”

Bush and Presley were joined by six other Democratic House members in launching the new Equal Rights Amendment Caucus: Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Jennifer McClellan of Virginia, Judy Chu and Sydney Kamlager-Dove, both of California, Delia Ramirez of Illinois, and Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, as well as women’s rights activists.

Zakiya Thomas, Rep. Cori Bush, Rep. Ayanna Presley, Lisa McCormick, and Rep. Madeleine Dean

“For far too long, women and LGBTQ+ folks have been relegated to second-class legal status in America – our contributions ignored, erased, or rendered a footnote in history – and it’s high time we change that,” said Pressley, who said the ERA Caucus will work to affirm the Equal Rights Amendment as the 28th Amendment to the Constitution, establish gender equality as a national priority, and center our most vulnerable and marginalized communities, who stand to benefit the most.

“We’ve had so many supporters and champions of the Equal Rights Amendment in Congress in both houses and this is the first time we actually have a caucus dedicated to the Equal Rights Amendment,” said ERA Coalition President Zakiya Thomas. “We know that this is the time, the time is now. We’ve never been closer in the 100 years this movement has been going on.”

Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin will serve as a vice chairman of the new caucus.

“Our new ERA Caucus proves that momentum for an Equal Rights Amendment is building as more and more Americans recognize the vital importance of writing gender equality into our Constitution,” Raskin said. “I’m proud to be a founding vice chair of this new — and urgently needed — ERA Caucus, and thankful to Reps. Bush and Pressley for leading us in the fight for women’s rights and against gender discrimination.”

The number of states needed to ratify the amendment — 38 — was not reached until 2020, long after the congressionally-mandated deadline.

After Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment, an ultimately unsuccessful legal battle began to compel the Archivist of the United States to publish the amendment.

The movement to enshrine the Equal Rights Amendment as the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was dealt a blow in February when the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the original 1979 deadline and subsequent extension to 1982 for ratification of the amendment were binding.

Undaunted, activists are now turning their focus to Congress.

Pressley introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives, matched by a bipartisan resolution in the Senate proposed by Senators Ben Cardin and Lisa Murkowski, to remove the time limit on ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.

Dean noted that the first iteration of the ERA was introduced 100 years ago in 1923.

“Here we are a century later and we still haven’t gotten it done,” said Dean. “I now have three granddaughters, so that century is weighing on me heavily. How is it we have not protected the rights of all women, all girls in this country regardless of race or creed or color?”

New Jersey ratified the ERA on April 17, 1972, according to McCormick, who said Congress voted to extend the original March 1979 deadline to June 30, 1982.

The 15 states that did not ratify the Equal Rights Amendment before the 1982 deadline were Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.

On March 22, 2017, 45 years to the day after Congress passed the ERA, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify it. On May 30, 2018, Illinois became the 37th state. And, in a historic vote to become the 38th state to ratify, Virginia voted to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment on January 15, 2020.

“While women enjoy more rights today than they did when the ERA was first introduced in 1923 or when it passed out of Congress in 1972, hard-won laws against sex discrimination do not rest on any unequivocal constitutional foundation,” said McCormick. “These laws can be inconsistently enforced or even repealed by a simple majority vote.”

“Elements of sex discrimination remain in statutory and case law, and courts have had difficulty applying a consistent standard to gender-based classifications, which are not inherently suspect or comparable to racial or ethnic classifications under equal-protection analysis,” said McCormick.

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