Yesterday, the United States House Judiciary Committee considered H.J. Resolution 79, legislation to remove one of the few barriers left to finally add the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution: the 1982 deadline for ratification.
First proposed almost a century ago and passed by Congress in 1972, the ERA was ratified by only 35 of the necessary 38 states before the 1982 deadline—which was extended from its original 1979 deadline. Nearly four decades later in 2018, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify, and now in the wake of the Virginia 2019 elections, there is a new dawn for the ERA: with Virginia’s incoming pro-ERA leadership, passage in the state is almost assured. Virginia is expected to soon become the 38th–and final–state needed to make the ERA the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
We’re here this morning at the Judiciary Committee for a hearing to remove the time limit for the ratification or the Equal Rights Amendment! We’ll be live tweeting from the gallery, stay tuned 🌟 pic.twitter.com/dlHiJTNPbz— Feminist Campus (@feministcampus) November 13, 2019
The hearing, chaired by Representative and ERA supporter Jerry Nadler (D-NY), was overwhelmed with support for the ERA, but anti-equality members of the committee made their presence clear, cloaking their opposition to the bill with respect for parliamentary procedure and anti-abortion rhetoric. To kick things off, Representative Doug Collins (R-GA) emphasized Congress’s political processes, claiming that the political body doesn’t have the authority to retroactively change the amendment’s deadline—even though it arbitrarily decided to create and extend the deadline before. He even suggested that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a feminist icon and longtime ERA supporter, believes that the ERA needs to be re-proposed before Congress, starting the process over again. Collins then left the room abruptly, complaining that he wasn’t at the impeachment hearing instead.
While the process of this resolution may be unprecedented, Congress has the power to create, extend, or remove deadlines as long as its members go through the proper channels, following the processes revered so much by Collins and other anti-ERA representatives in attendance at the hearing. And about RBG … let’s leave interpreting the Constitution to her. She may have been quoted in the past saying that she hopes the ERA process starts over, but that’s probably the only thing that she and opponents to the ERA agree on. Anti-equality lawmakers using RBG’s words as justification of their opposition to the ERA is not only problematic, but it’s also half-baked: using RBG, a supporter of abortion access, to highlight their position on an amendment in which their only other talking point is how the amendment would support abortion access …. is questionable. Why would they put her, a Supreme Court Justice whose legacy of working for gender equality would be fully protected by the ERA’s passage, on a pedestal in committee?
Not long after Collins gave his opinion, Representative Mike Johnson (R-LA) reiterated all of his points–yet again quoting RBG–and denouncing the ERA for being conscious of gender identity and opening the door for abortion access. Referencing those who surgically transition from their assigned sex at birth, he made the claim that the ERA is “anti-female” and that it could lead to permanent infertility. He also lamented that the ERA has the potential to strike down the Hyde Amendment, a legislative provision that prevents the use of federal funding for abortion care except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the pregnant person.
On the supporting side, however, Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) responded, denouncing Collins’ suggestion that political process should precede progress. The point, he said, is for “women and girls to be able to see themselves in the Constitution,” something that resonated with the majority of the people in the room. While Cohen’s statement was encouraging and thoughtful, the most moving thing was all of the women in the room who shared their statements about the ERA and what it means for the Constitution. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said she worked to ratify the ERA when she was a college student, and that it is just as important today as it was then. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) suggested that the process in the way of progress can be fixed with bipartisan legislation and that “the very basis of the equality of the sexes should not be asked in 2020.”
Ultimately, after about an hour and a half of representatives presenting their opinions on the deadline removal resolution, it passed by a vote of 21-11, which I only know because Representative Johnson requested an official vote count after yelling “nay!” as loud as he could within reason.
Now that the bill has made its way through the Judiciary Committee, it will go to the House for a full vote where it will likely pass. Its fate in the Senate, where it may never even be brought to the floor, is less reassuring, however. But as Representative Cohen said, this resolution is about progress, and progress is often slow–something feminists know all too well.