Some battles continue to be fought: The Equal Rights Amendment

The Illinois State Bar Association’s Assembly overwhelmingly supported the Standing Committee on Women and the Law’s request that the Association support the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Prior to the Assembly’s adoption, the Committee addressed most of the Association’s Section Councils and Committees to publicize the amendment and seek support. Many ISBA members were surprised that gender is not expressly covered by the Constitution. As we informed them, it is still surprisingly relevant as the late United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia had stated that sex discrimination was not prohibited by the Constitution.

The ERA simply states: “Equal rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”

Amending the United States Constitution can be an arduous process. Congress must pass all amendments by a two-thirds majority in both houses. Amendments must then be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

The ERA was passed by both houses of Congress in 1972. It was then sent to the state legislatures for debate and ratification. A deadline was set for ratification of March 22, 1979. Within the first year, 30 of the necessary states ratified the amendment, with an additional five joining ratification by 1977. In 1978, the ratification deadline was extended to 1982. Although the Illinois House voted to support ERA in 1980, the vote fell short of the necessary three-fifth requirement. No other states voted in favor of the ratification and five states voted to rescind their ratification. Although the deadline for ratification has passed, proponents assert that Congress can extend the deadline for ratification, recognize prior ratifications and even nullify the attempted rescissions of the ratifications.

Congress has reintroduced the ERA in every session since 1982. United States Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), has sponsored the ERA since the 105th Congress. She has stated: “Our democracy rests on the principle of ‘liberty and justice for all.’ We need the ERA to ensure that this concept applies equal to women.”

Representative Maloney recently, once again, spoke on the need for the Equal Rights Amendment. Her speech on the floor was broadcast and can be found on YouTube at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zBCcFhhmTw&feature=share>.

Locally, in 2014, the Illinois State Senate voted in favor of ratifying the ERA. The Illinois House did not consider the matter. Although it is not anticipated that the issue will be considered in the Illinois House during this session, this Association is now on record supporting the equal rights for women.

March is Women’s History Month and is a time to celebrate women. Hopefully, soon, we will be able to celebrate true equality guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

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Lori G. Levin is an experienced criminal and juvenile defense attorney who practices in the Chicagoland area. She can be reached at 312-972-3756 or levin@lorilevinlaw.com. Her Web site is www.lorilevinlaw.com. She can also be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/chicagodefense and Twitter @LoriLevin.

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March 2016Volume 21Number 4PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)