Women’s rights activists were jubilant Wednesday after Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, finally clearing a key hurdle needed for it to be included in the Constitution.
The ERA would amend the Constitution to give women equal standing under the law. It was first conceived of nearly a century ago, but first passed in the U.S. Congress in 1972. It then went out for ratification to the states, three-fourths of which must ratify in order to amend the Constitution.
Clearly, that’s taken a while.
After a flurry of states ratified back then, a backlash kicked in ― and by the time the congressional deadline came and went, the ERA had fallen three states short of what was necessary.
Then, about five years ago, women’s rights activists picked the effort back up. In 2017, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify. Illinois followed in 2018.
On Wednesday, Virginia’s House and Senate both voted to ratify ― a huge victory. Last year, the ERA fell one vote short of moving out of committee. The blue, women-infused wave of last year’s Virginia elections changed the dynamics this time around.
Technically, the House and Senate votes will need to be reconciled before the ERA is officially ratified in the state, but for all intents and purposes it’s official.
“It’s a big day; truly tremendous,” said Carol Jenkins, the CEO of the ERA Coalition, a group of more than 100 organizations that have been pushing the amendment for the past five years. “There are other steps that need to be addressed, but this was a clear victory after so much hard work on the part of the activists in Virginia and across the country who supported them and the legislators who’ve fought to get the ERA ratified.”
The next problem for activists is that pesky deadline. When Congress initially passed the ERA, it set a deadline for states to approve. It eventually extended the deadline to 1982. Opponents argue that was the end of the road.
Trump’s Justice Department made that case in a written nonbinding opinion earlier this month, arguing that the process to ratify the ERA needs to start back at square one.
ERA proponents are pushing back against this in two ways: Some ERA activists are trying to get Congress to pass a bill extending the deadline. Others say the deadline itself is unconstitutional.
Either way, expect a big constitutional battle to come.
“There will be lawsuits filed,” said Jenkins.