Nevada, Virginia, Illinois sue to have ERA recognized as 28th amendment

Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment stand outside the entrance to the Virginia Capitol in Richmond on the opening day of the 2020 legislative session. (Photo: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Nevada is working alongside Virginia and Illinois to fight to ensure the Equal Rights Amendment becomes the 28th Amendment to the Constitution. 

After Virginia recently voted to ratify the ERA, securing the required number of states needed for it to be adopted as a constitutional amendment, the National Archives and Records Administration said it would take no action. 

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul filed a lawsuit Thursday with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to compel the U.S. Archivist to recognize the ratification of the Amendment. 

“We’ve waited too long already and it is shameless to wait a moment longer,” said Carol Jenkins, the CEO of the ERA Coalition Fund for Women’s Equality during a press call Thursday. 

First introduced in 1923 and then passed by Congress in 1972, the Constitutional amendment that would guarantee the “equality of all rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” 

While Congress passed the ERA, the amendment failed to get the required 38 states needed in order to be ratified before the 1979 deadline.

Nearly four decades later, Nevada became the 36th state to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in 2017.

It wouldn’t have happened, Ford noted, without the efforts of state Sen. Pat Spearman who brought forward efforts during the 2015 session. After it failed, Spearman tried again in 2017, when it narrowly passed. 

In 2018, Illinois became the 37th state and this week Virginia became the 38th, and final, state to ratify the Amendment. North Carolina is one of the 12 states not to have ratified the ERA.

“Virginia’s historic vote is another example of equality breaking out around the world,” Spearman said in a statement. “We celebrate because heroes didn’t quit. We are standing on the shoulders of these great people and making a down payment on the debt we owe them. The Equal Rights Amendment is about equality, period.”

There are still obstacles along the way to having the amendment recognized. The U.S. Department of Justice, which is where the U.S. Archivist is taking its lead from, is arguing the Amendment process has to start from the beginning. 

Nebraska, Tennessee, Idaho, Kentucky and South Dakota have voted to rescind their state’s previous ratification of the ERA. However, during the press call all three attorneys general said there is no mechanism that authorizes states to withdraw. 

All three said they are prepared to argue this all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where they say the law, and history, is on their side. 

“Women have always been endowed with equal rights, even though our country has wrongly failed to recognize them,” Ford said. “These rights are entitled to their rightful place in the Constitution, and I am committed to ensuring they are permanently written into our nation’s history and its future. Advancing civil rights is one of my Administration’s main areas of focus. The gravity of this movement should not be underplayed—today we are advocating for women’s rights here in Nevada and all over the country, and we are taking an essential stride towards inclusivity.”

Many opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment contend it would somehow undo “traditional” society, or that it’s simply not needed anymore. 

“I find it laughable that people born into privilege always debate if those who were not (born into privilege) deserve it,” Spearman said in April 2019 in a fiery testimony in front of the House Judiciary subcommittee. “Equality is not a debate. We are born with it. The only thing we are asking with the ERA is we acknowledge the fact that women are born equal to men.

Michael Lyle is a reporter for the Nevada Current, where this story first appeared.

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