The US House of Representatives voted Thursday to approve HJRes 79 to remove the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The original deadline expired on June 30, 1982.
The resolution was introduced in November, and the House Judiciary Committee approved it in January. The day before the Committee’s approval, Virginia became the thirty-eighth state to ratify the ERA. The resolution will now go to the Senate, where its future is uncertain. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that he will not support it.
Five of the states that ratified the ERA prior to the 1982 deadline have since rescinded their ratification. As a further complication, in 1978 Kentucky’s legislature voted to rescind the ratification. Acting-Governor Thelma Stovall vetoed the resolution, and Kentucky’s legislature never overrode the veto.
Even if the Senate approves the resolution, and if the rescissions do not matter, Alabama, Louisiana and South Dakota filed a lawsuit in December to block the addition of the ERA to the Constitution. The states argue that the deadline for ratification has passed and that Congress cannot retroactively remove the deadline. In response to the lawsuit, the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion agreeing with the lawsuit. The text of Article V of the Constitution does not speak to whether Congress can retroactively remove a deadline. In fact, it says nothing about ratification deadlines at all.
Additionally, the last three states to ratify the ERA (Virginia, Illinois and Nevada) are suing the US Archivist to get the ERA added to the Constitution without Congressional action.