Virginia moved one step closer on Tuesday to ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment after a state House of Delegates committee advanced its resolution to the full chamber.
A companion measure is already making its way through the state Senate, and it’s possible the commonwealth could become the 38th — and potentially final — state to ratify the amendment as soon as this week, though the effort is already facing legal challenges. Both chambers of Virginia’s legislature are controlled by Democrats, who have made passing the ERA a priority.
ERA advocates say the amendment is necessary to ban discrimination on the basis of sex and guarantee equality for women under the Constitution, but opponents argue it will pave the way for greater abortion access and say equal-rights protections for women have already been enshrined at the federal and state levels.
Democratic Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, a chief sponsor of the resolution, said the full House will take up the measure on Wednesday and final passage is expected the day after.
“I stand with 160 million women and girls throughout this country waiting for their constitutional equality. There’s not many times that what we do here, in this body, in this committee, will affect and be felt throughout the country. But today is that day,” Carroll Foy said in a speech introducing the resolution before the House Privileges and Elections Committee Tuesday.
The panel passed the resolution with a 13-9 vote along party lines. A similar measure in the Senate had its first reading on Monday and is expected to pass later this week.
An amendment needs three-fourths of state legislatures — or 38 out of 50 — to be ratified and added to the US Constitution. Many of those states, however, ratified the ERA more than 40 years ago — and five that had passed it later rescinded their support — and opponents argue that the congressionally-imposed deadline for adding ERA to the Constitution expired decades ago.
The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel said in a legal opinion made public last week that the deadline to ratify the ERA has expired and is no longer pending before the states — even going so far as to disagree with its own 1977 opinion that said Congress could extend the ratification deadline.
“Accordingly, even if one or more state legislatures were to ratify the proposed amendment, it would not become part of the Constitution, and the Archivist could not certify its adoption,” states the opinion, which effectively blocks the archivist of the United States from verifying the ERA should it be approved by the necessary number of legislatures.
But the archivist’s authority doesn’t prevent states from acting on their own to ratify the amendment — or preclude them from legally challenging the Justice Department’s opinion in court.
Meanwhile, Democrats in several other states have vowed to restart efforts to pass the ERA, though none are as far along as Virginia. Ahead of the start of Georgia’s legislative session, Democratic state Rep. Billy Mitchell called for The Peach State to ratify the ERA, but that effort faces long odds in a legislature in which both houses are controlled by Republicans.
Congress passed the ERA in 1972, sending the amendment to the states to ratify within a seven-year window. That deadline was later extended by three years to 1982, but by then, only 35 states had signed off on the ERA.
In subsequent years, two more states have ratified the ERA. Advocates say Congress can amend the deadline and reject the argument that states can rescind ratifications they’ve already passed.