Three Legendary Sexists Now Hold Power Over the Equal Rights Amendment
After 100 years, the fight for the ERA may come down to the actions of McConnell, Kavanaugh, and Trump
It is one of the great ironies of American history that the future of the Equal Rights Amendment now rests in the hands of three men who are famous for their misogynistic actions and policies. And yet, when you look back at the amendment’s long and complicated history, it’s hard not to conclude: Sounds about right.
Nearly 100 years ago, in 1923, legendary suffragist Alice Paul, herself now held up for having problematic views on the role of black and Jewish women in the movement, was coming off a victory in securing women (or rather, white women) the right to vote, which culminated in the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920. The next step after “equal votes for women,” Paul thought, would be a constitutional amendment declaring men and women equal in all realms of life. This Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in Congress every year until finally, during the next big wave of feminist agitation half a century later, it was in 1972 passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. But to be added to the Constitution it needed to be approved by 38 of the 50 state legislatures by 1978. By 1977, it was still three states short when constitutional lawyer and anti-feminist super-villain Phyllis Schlafly ran a campaign that derailed it. Congress even extended the deadline for ratification until 1982. But for almost 30 years nothing happened.
All that changed after the election of Donald Trump, the guy credibly accused by more than two dozen women of various forms of sexual assault and impropriety. Women were incandescent with rage. They marched on Washington, D.C. They organized at the grassroots. And they revived the long-dormant ERA fight, taking it to friendly state legislatures. In 2017, Nevada ratified the ERA. In 2018, Illinois followed suit.
Now, thanks to the Democratic victories in Virginia state elections last week, ERA looks closer to passage than ever. Virginia could be the 38th state to ratify it, which would get us to the magical constitutional amendment number. Representative Jerry Nadler of New York has even proposed a bill to get rid of any deadline for ratification, allowing Virginia’s vote to count.
If Nadler’s bill passes in Nancy Pelosi’s House, as it is sure to, it then gets kicked to Mitch McConnell’s Senate, that graveyard of Democratic legislation. McConnell is deeply committed to owning the libs by not passing laws. If the Senate refuses to vote on extending the ERA passage deadline and Virginia votes to ratify, the ERA could end up in litigation and be kicked up to the Supreme Court for a decision. And that’s just one of several scenarios in which the court could get involved.
It’s not at all outside the realm of possibility that a ruling or decision by Justice Kavanaugh could decide the future of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Ah, the Supreme Court. You’ll remember the Supreme Court as the place where Trump recently installed not one but two new white male justices — one of whom became the famous object of controversy for his love of beer and the accusations of sexual assault levied against him.
Yes, it’s possible that the Equal Rights Amendment will go up to the Supreme Court. So it’s not at all outside the realm of possibility that a ruling by Justice Kavanaugh could decide its future. You know, the guy who once was described in the New York Times as someone who when drunk in college, “pulled down his pants and thrust his penis” at a classmate, “prompting her to swat it away and inadvertently touch it.” That guy could be deciding whether women will have the same rights as men under the United States Constitution.
I don’t have any more spots on my dystopian hellscape bingo card but if I did, this would for sure earn one.
There’s some controversy about what the ERA would mean or what it would do or its value in a world post-marriage-equality world. Certainly, many of the amendment’s initial aims have come to pass through the slow accretion of gains over the past century. Susan Chira, the gender editor of the New York Times has noted, “What the E.R.A. would change and what it would not is both bitterly contested and hypothetical.”
But I tend to think that if RBG is for it, it’s probably a win for women. “I would like to be able to take out my pocket Constitution and say that the equal citizenship stature of men and women is a fundamental tenet of our society like free speech,” Justice Ginsberg said in 2017.
And another bright spot: Unlike laws, presidents don’t need to sign constitutional amendments once they have been ratified by the states. So if Trump and McConnell don’t decide to stall its passage, at least Trump’s giant sharpie signature won’t be anywhere near it.