The Equal Rights Amendment, also called the “Alice Paul” Amendment, was introduced to Congress in 1923. To understand why it was created and what it would do, let’s look at how the Constitution actually works with this hypothetical question: Would an amendment that simply states “All American citizens over the age of 18 have the right to vote in municipal, state, and federal elections” pass today?
Opponents would argue that the right to vote is already currently guarenteed in the Constitution with the combination of three amendments: the 15th (no discrimination on basis of race, color, or previous servitude), the 19th (no discrimination on the basis of sex) and the 26th (lowering voting age to 18). However, the 10th Amendment gives individual states control over everything not explicitly given to the Federal Government in the Constitution which is why voting rights can be undone at the state level. Legal cases over voting discrimination continue to this day because there is nothing in the Constitution that explicitly says all American citizens have the actual right to vote nor that states have to make it easy to vote. The U.S. Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore (2000) clarified this in its final decision by stating “The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States”.
Opponents of the ERA often argue that equality is already protected within the Constitution under the 14th Amendment which has been used many times in civil rights cases. Section 1 states: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction” Susan B. Anthony and others tried to use the 14th Amendment to vote (Episode 28) and were denied because Section 2 of the 14th Amendment specifically says “male”. This is the first time that term “male” appears in the Constitution and part of the reason why the suffrage movement split over whether or not to support the 14th and 15th Amendments (Episode 25). The addition of the word “male” to the Constitution led to the need for the 19th Amendment.
The case for the ERA is that gender equality would be clearly stated within the Constitution rather than relying on interpretation of previous amendments.
This is the full text of the ERA:
Section 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
When the Constitution was written, there was a lot of disagreement among the founding fathers about what it should and should not contain. The first 10 amendments, also known as the Bill of Rights, were added in order to make the Constitution palatable for all the representatives. However, more divisive ideas, like the question of slavery, were handed off to future generations to decide. That’s why the founding fathers included the ability to make amendments.The 19th Amendment wasn’t perfect, but it was what could pass during its time. It is also the only place in the Constitution that specifically affirms women’s rights.
The ERA might have been ahead of its time in both 1923 and the 1970s. If the ERA were to become an official amendment it would codify gender equality into law, something that many other nations have in their governing documents. Alice Paul has a famous quote that says “I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.”
This week’s song pick:
“Quiet” by Milck https://youtu.be/Tl_Qfj8780M
Episode 89 Sources:
Bush v. Gore: