Equal Rights Amendment Going Nowhere. Again.

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I barely even noticed the reintroduction of the Equal Rights Amendment on Tuesday, July 21, 2009 by Representative Carolyn Maloney.   The full text of the bill is here.   Its core is quite simple:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.

Remember that the ERA passed in Congress in 1972 and missed ratification by 3 states in 1982.   And it wasn’t just social conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly who opposed the ERA.   Several well-regarded liberals did, too (see here).   The bill was reintroduced in 2007 by House and Senate Democrats as the Women’s Equality Amendment (WaPo coverage here).

According to Jane Mansbridge (in Why We Lost the ERA, 1986), the equal protection cases of the 1970’s rendered the ERA as largely symbolic:

By 1982, the Supreme Court had left the ERA only two important potential roles. First, the Amendment could have acted as a symbol of the nation’s commitment to women’s rights – a symbol that would probably have had important practical effects both in encouraging legislators and judges to take this mandate into account, and in encouraging citizens to bring civil suits demanding their rights. Second, the Amendment could have committed the American government to particular substantive applications of the general principle of equal rights that a majority of the still traditional, still ambivalent, still sexist American public would not have voted for in a referendum.

So what is different now than in 1982?   Plenty, in terms of the legal advancement of formal equality claims.   And for most Americans, formal equality seems to be “equality enough” (or enough equality).

I don’t perceive a groundswell of support for an ERA on symbolic grounds.     The House resolution honoring Michael Jackson has a better chance than this bill.   My prediction is that it will go nowhere.   Again.

-Bridget Crawford

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