The House voted Thursday to eliminate the long-passed deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, riding the momentum of Virginia becoming the 38th state to ratify the ERA, which would amend the Constitution to prohibit discrimination based on sex.
But the GOP-led Senate and mounting legal challenges remain hurdles to full adoption of a 28th amendment to the Constitution.
The House voted 232-183 to approve the proposal, sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., which would remove the 1982 deadline for state ratification.
Five Republicans joined Democrats to vote for the measure: Rodney Davis of Illinois, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Tom Reed of New York, John Curtis of Utah and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey.
“We want in,” said Speier, holding up a copy of the Constitution on the House floor.
The ERA promises equal rights to women and reads, in part, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who usually abstains from voting unless her vote is needed to break a tie, said Thursday she is casting a vote for the ERA measure “for my children, my daughters and my granddaughters.” She then paused and added that the vote was for her son and grandsons as well.
“I welcome the opportunity to cast a vote to end discrimination on the basis of sex,” she said.
The ERA did not garner the three-fourths of states required to ratify it before the 1982 deadline set by Congress. But in recent years, Illinois and Nevada both voted to ratify it. Last month, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA — ostensibly reaching the required three-fourths threshold for the 28th Amendment to the Constitution.
“There should not be a timeline on doing the right thing,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.
Republicans stood to oppose the joint resolution, arguing that it is unconstitutional, that women are already protected under the Constitution and that the ERA would open the door for rollbacks of anti-abortion policies.
Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner raised a point of order, requesting that the resolution require a two-thirds vote because, he said, the resolution would have the effect of changing the Constitution. Despite the chair ruling against the point of order, Sensenbrenner appealed multiple times before the House proceeded to the final passage vote.
Conservatives warn that ratification of the ERA would lead to more abortions, arguing that because abortions are exclusive to women, any restrictions on the procedure could be deemed unconstitutional under the ERA.
Republican Reps. Debbie Lesko of Arizona and Jackie Walorski of Indiana cited comments this week from liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who suggested that the passing of the 1982 deadline means that the effort to ratify the ERA needs to start over from scratch.
At an event at Georgetown University’s law school, moderator and federal appellate judge Margaret McKeown asked Ginsburg about the effort to revive the ERA.
“I would like to see a new beginning” for ERA ratification, the justice told McKeown.
“There’s too much controversy about latecomers,” Ginsburg said. “Plus, a number of states have withdrawn their ratification. So if you count a latecomer on the plus side, how can you disregard states that said, ‘We’ve changed our minds?’”
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., pushed back, asserting congressional authority on the deadline issue.
“If Congress can set a deadline, it can remove a deadline,” Nadler said.
House Republicans also cited the January opinion by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluding that Virginia’s efforts to ratify the ERA had come too late. The office said the entire legislative process for approval must be restarted from scratch for a proposed constitutional amendment to be legally binding. The conclusion is only advisory and not final.
Maryland Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said Wednesday that there are enough votes in the Senate to adopt the resolution to kill the ERA deadline, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is unlikely to to give the issue floor time.
“We need Leader McConnell to bring this to the floor of the United States Senate, because we have the votes,” Cardin said.
He credited Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine for securing bipartisan support for the ERA measure in the Senate.
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report