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Senate GOP blocks joint resolution nixing Equal Rights Amendment ratification deadline

Joint resolution came five years after 38th state legislature, Virginia, voted to add to Constitution

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., forced GOP senators on Thursday to cast a vote to block the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., forced GOP senators on Thursday to cast a vote to block the measure. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Republicans blocked a procedural measure on a joint resolution to remove an expired deadline for states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which has never been added to the Constitution, a century after it was first introduced to Congress.

Fifty-one senators voted to take up the measure, with 47 voting against doing so. The procedural vote Thursday needed 60 in support for the Senate to formally take up the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., announced the vote in a speech on Monday. On the timing of it, Schumer spokesperson Angelo Roefaro said in an email, “We chose this week after working for months with the advocates, including Gloria Steinem.”

A version of the ERA that Congress passed in 1972 states: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

The White House on Thursday issued a statement supporting the Senate measure, saying the administration “strongly supports” nixing the 1982 deadline, citing a recent Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel assessment of the legality of doing so.

“In the United States of America, no one’s rights should be denied on account of their sex. It is long past time to definitively enshrine the principle of gender equality in the Constitution,” according to the statement of administration policy. “Gender equality is not only a moral issue: the full participation of women and girls across all aspects of our society is essential to our economic prosperity, our security, and the health of our democracy.”

Had the joint resolution cleared both chambers, however, it would not have needed to go to President Joe Biden for his signature. Joint resolutions to amend the Constitution merely need to clear the two-thirds vote threshold in each chamber.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine were the lone GOP senators to vote to move to the measure; Schumer changed his affirmative vote to no. Under the chamber’s rules, doing so gives him the option of bringing up the measure again down the road.

Democrats are eager to tie the constitutional amendment to a list of recent abortion-related decisions by federal courts.

“In this ominous hour of American history, the Equal Rights Amendment has never been as necessary and urgent as it is today. Recent events like the Supreme Court’s horrible Dobbs decision, uncertainty with critical care drugs like mifepristone and a slew of proposed state actions have women in this country facing an uncertain future,” Schumer said Monday, referring to the 2022 Supreme Court decision to end federal abortion protections and a recent Texas judge’s ruling against an FDA-approved abortion medication.

“We are here to stand united and inch by inch restore, fight for and expand women’s rights so that the women of today and the generations of tomorrow will not know a future with less access than their mothers had,” he added.

Both chambers adopted a version of the ERA in 1972 with two-thirds majorities, and eventually a 1982 deadline was set for the constitutionally required 38 states to ratify it. But that deadline was missed and was achieved only in January 2020, when Virginia became that 38th state.

While never added to the Constitution, provisions of the Equal Rights Amendment have been partially codified, according to the Brennan Center.

“In 1982, following the expiration of the extended deadline, most activists and lawmakers accepted the ERA’s defeat,” states a Brennan ERA analysis. “But in the four decades since Congress first proposed the ERA, courts and legislatures have realized much of what the amendment was designed to accomplish.”

Because of those legal moves and with Democrats lacking the necessary votes to pass it anew, this week’s vote is largely symbolic.

GOP opposition is also largely about abortion rights.

Emma Waters of the conservative Heritage Foundation recently wrote that Democrats’ interest in a new ERA vote “is to find a ‘right’ to abortion in the Constitution.”

“For those who want to protect the lives of unborn babies, opposing this resolution stripping the expiration date from the Equal Rights Amendment is the right place to start,” Waters said. “Lawmakers must stand firm against those in favor of ratifying the ERA. Its ‘right’ to kill an unborn baby is no right at all.”

The attempt at a vote this week appears to have pushed to the back burner a floor vote on a measure meant to tie GOP senators to former President Donald Trump’s calls to “defund” the FBI and Justice Department amid his many legal woes.

Daniel Hillburn contributed to this report.

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