On Friday, 20 men and three women in West Virginia’s Republican-controlled state senate quietly passed a measure that would rescind the state’s 1972 ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, which, if added to the U.S. Constitution, would guarantee men and women equal rights under the law. (If you’re just learning that that legal principle doesn’t fully exist, welcome to hell.) Yes, some court rulings have affirmed protection against gender-based discrimination, but ERA advocates say the amendment is necessary for stronger defenses against workplace discrimination and in cases of domestic and sexual violence.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 44 says that the state’s ratification expired in 1979 and West Virginia should not be counted as supporting the amendment. All 23 Republicans cosponsored the proposal, and it passed on a voice vote with no debate. The measure now heads to the House of Delegates for a vote. House Democrats tried and failed to reject the proposal on Monday, and it’s been officially introduced there.
Who exactly would support this move for West Virginia to rescind the ERA, you may ask? The Associated Press reports that anti-abortion activists, including West Virginians for Life and the National Right to Life Committee, favor it, which is in keeping with the conservative position that the ERA would offer a new legal avenue to challenge abortion restrictions. (State lawmakers are also pursuing a 15-week abortion ban, House Bill 4004, on the hopes that the Supreme Court will uphold a similar ban in Mississippi this June. HB 4004 passed the House this morning and now moves to the Senate.)
Constitutional amendments must be passed by Congress then ratified in 75 percent of state legislatures, or 38 out of the current 50 states. Congress passed the ERA in 1972 and states were given seven years to ratify it, and later extended the deadline from 1979 to 1982. The amendment only passed in 35 states by that time thanks to the campaigning of Phyllis Schlafly, and the effort essentially went dormant for decades. But following the election of President Donald Trump, three more states ratified it: Nevada in 2017, Illinois in 2018, and Virginia in 2020.
The Trump-led Department of Justice shot down attempts to add the amendment after Virginia became the 38th and final state needed but advocates are pressing forward. The text of the ERA does not include a deadline and but just for good measure, the U.S. House passed a resolution in 2020 to remove the 1982 deadline. The Senate has not voted on it yet. Three state attorneys general are appealing their 2020 lawsuit for the ERA to be formally recognized as the 28th Amendment. (The 27th amendment, by the way, was ratified more than 200 years after Congress originally passed it, so 50 years is nothing.) President Joe Biden said in January statement that he supports its ratification.
Kayla Young, a Democratic member of the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, suggested on Twitter that this is happening because the ERA has a chance. She wrote: “Clarifying that WV wants to rescind their ERA ratification when there is a procedural chance it could actually become ratified is perhaps the most @WVGOP thing I could dream up.”
Young told Jezebel that in February 2020, there was a House resolution urging Congress to extend the ERA ratification deadline, and it had several Republican co-sponsors. “I don’t know what the sudden change of heart is, other than the fact that now [the ERA] could actually potentially pass,” she said. “It’s just so wild that they’re all for it until it might actually become reality, and then they want to claw it back.” The pending Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade may also be a factor, she said.
The ACLU of West Virginia said, “It is outrageous that the Senate would go back on its commitment that women should have equal rights to men. We will be fighting this resolution as it heads to the House of Delegates.”
If West Virginia Governor Jim Justice is tired of people deriding the state, he could ask its lawmakers to stop doing retrograde shit like this.