Over nine decades, efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution to recognize women’s rights have faced major challenges.
Congress finally passed such legislation, known as the Equal Rights Amendment, in 1972. The amendment would recognize women’s equal rights to men under the law.
Despite concerted campaigns by women’s rights groups, it fell short of the 38 states that needed to ratify it in order for it to become part of the Constitution. The original deadline for states to ratify was 1979. Congress extended the deadline to 1982, but even then it still fell three states short of passage.
Nevertheless, women’s rights activists have continued working to get states to ratify it.
Many ERA proponents argue that the deadline is irrelevant because the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits changes to the salaries of congressional legislators, was ratified in 1992, 203 years after it was introduced. The same could happen to the ERA, they argue. They maintain that Congress has the power to change the deadline and recognize the 38 ratification votes to approve the amendment.
Some constitutional experts, however, argue that it may be too late, since the deadline passed more than three decades ago. They also suggest that, while its passage would have symbolic importance, the ERA might only make a difference at the margins where the law still allows sex discrimination.
“Ladies Against Women”
Women’s rights advocates argue that sex discrimination is a pervasive problem that could be resolved by the ERA. Even though the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment prohibits states from denying any person equal protection under the law, women’s rights are not explicitly guaranteed.