The ERA Is Still Worth Supporting

(The Bloomberg View) -- Illinois last month became the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The support of one more state would be enough, on the face of it, to get the measure passed.

The ERA, which states that equal rights under law shall not be denied or abridged “on account of sex,” was first proposed in 1923. The law has changed a lot since then, so one might ask whether writing the amendment into the Constitution is still worth the trouble. The answer is yes — even though the task is more difficult than the vote in Illinois might make it seem.  

The ERA would establish a clear standard for evaluating cases of sex discrimination, including continuing legal battles over pay disparities between men and women. True, the 1964 Civil Rights Act prevents discrimination in employment, and courts have interpreted the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to protect specifically against sexual discrimination along with racial discrimination. But statutes and court rulings aren’t the same as a guarantee of rights written into the Constitution.

There’s a problem, though. Illinois’s action last month didn’t unambiguously bring the ERA within one state of the 38 required for ratification. Congress proposed the ERA for ratification by the states in 1972, but subject to a deadline of 1979 (later extended to 1982). In addition, five states have rescinded their support. Whether one more state would put the amendment over the top is therefore questionable: Citing the deadline and rescissions, opponents would challenge such a claim, and might prevail.

Never mind. Sexual discrimination continues to undermine women’s opportunity and damage women’s lives. American women deserve an unambiguous endorsement of unassailable equal rights. The debate over the ERA ought to be put squarely before the courts and the public — and once that 38th state ratifies, it will be.

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