St. Louis Park resident Suzann Willhite joined advocates of the Equal Rights Amendment in traveling to Virginia to rally for the measure’s ratification.
The state’s two chambers of the General Assembly each approved the Equal Rights Amendment Jan. 15. After each body formally approves the other’s identical bills, Virginia will be the 38th state to ratify the amendment. The number is significant because the Constitution requires three-quarters of the states to ratify amendments. However, Congress had set a 1982 deadline for ratification, leading to an impending legal battle over the amendment. Lawsuits have been filed in federal courts regarding whether the deadline is valid. Additionally, bills in Congress would extend the deadline. Complicating the matter is the fact that five legislatures voted to rescind their ratifications, although ERA advocates say that the Constitution does not provide for states to rescind ratification.
The federal amendment would state, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
Activists from throughout the country rallied in Richmond, Virginia, on behalf of ratification for the amendment.
Shortly before the votes, the U.S. Department of Justice issued an opinion that the deadline to ratify the ERA has passed.
“We conclude that Congress had the constitutional authority to impose a deadline on the ratification of the ERA and, because that deadline has expired, the ERA Resolution is no longer pending before the States,” the department’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote.
Betty Folliard, founder of ERA Minnesota, said before she and Willhite traveled to Virginia, “That’s their opinion and their opinion is not binding either in Congress or in the courts. We’re going to Virginia to declare otherwise, because you can’t put a time limit on human rights.”
In Virginia, Folliard told The Washington Post, “What happens in Virginia impacts the entire country and will reverberate across the globe.”
Supporters of the amendment noted that 2020 marks 100 years since women gained the right to vote in the United States. They consider the efforts to ratify the ERA as completing the unfinished business of suffragists.
Willhite, who is secretary of ERA Minnesota and a member of the League of Women Voters of St. Louis Park, said in a statement, “The unfinished business is to finally include women in the foundational document of this country – the U.S. Constitution. Let us in.”
Minnesota ratified the federal ERA in 1973, the year after Congress approved it. ERA Minnesota has also sought legislative approval for an amendment to the state constitution that would state, “Equality under the law shall not be abridged or denied on account of gender.” The Minnesota House approved the amendment in 2019, but the Minnesota Senate has not had a public hearing for the bill. Some conservatives in the Legislature have questioned whether the amendment could block potential laws in the future that would be aimed at restricting abortion rights, MinnPost reported.
Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL-New Brighton), a supporter of the amendment, said she did not intend to affect abortion law, according to MinnPost. However, she declined to support a suggestion last year from former Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River) to add a line that would have stated that the amendment would “not grant, secure or deny any right related to accessibility or provision of abortion services or state funding for those services.” She pointed to existing abortion protections in the Minnesota Constitution as a result of a 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling.
If the Minnesota Senate voted to support the Minnesota ERA in the 2020 session, voters would have a chance to weigh in through the ballot. If the majority of voters cast ballots in favor of the amendment, it would be added to the state constitution.