- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2020

The House pushed through a bill Thursday to remove a four-decade-old deadline on ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, brushing aside Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s caution that they’re barking up a dead tree.

“We are on the brink of history, and no deadline should stand in the way,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, moving seamlessly from impeachment to another constitutional morass over ratification.

The measure cleared on a 232-183 vote, with five Republicans joining Democrats.

Backers say that if the measure also passes the Senate — which is unlikely — it would make the ERA the 28th amendment to the Constitution, citing the Virginia legislature’s ratifying vote last month as the key step to crossing the three-fourths threshold of states needed to amend the founding document.

Opponents said that’s wrong for many reasons, and pointed to Justice Ginsburg, who for months has been warning that the ERA that Congress cleared in 1972 is dead. As recently as Monday, she renewed that criticism, saying that while she supports an ERA, backers will need to start again.

“I would like to see a new beginning,” she said.

In her remarks at Georgetown University, she pointed out that while Virginia claims to be the 38th state, five states have revoked their ratification, which would cut the number to 33. She said it would be unfair to count late ratification by some states while ignoring de-ratification by others.

There are also thorny questions about whether Thursday’s vote was valid, since it came with only majority passage.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, said since it governs ratification of a constitutional amendment, and it takes a two-thirds vote in the House and the Senate to propose amendments, it should have taken a two-thirds vote to approve extending the deadline.

The presiding officer rejected his argument and refused to allow a vote to overturn her ruling.

Brushing aside the hurdles, Democrats touted the historic nature of Thursday’s vote, saying it would clear the way for better pay, better jobs and protections against violence for women.

“The ERA will strengthen America, unleashing the full power of women in our economy and upholding the value of equality in out democracy,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “I can’t even imagine how anyone could think of his or her daughter not having equality. His or her sister, mom, wife, not having equality.”

The Equal Rights Amendment reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.”

What that means in practice is controversial.

When the amendment was written, “sex” was understood to mean men and women. But Mr. Nadler said Thursday the amendment also would apply to gender identity, which was not part of the amendment drafters’ original vision.

Republicans’ chief concern Thursday was that the ERA would be used to erase abortion restrictions in the states and to upend a decades-old compromise that prevents taxpayers from having to subsidize abortions.

Mrs. Pelosi rebuffed that.

“This has nothing to do with the abortion issue. That’s an excuse. It’s not a reason,” she said.

But many of her own members disagreed, listing the ability to advance reproductive rights as a key reason they were backing the amendment.

“We still have men passing laws that dictate our choices about our bodies,” said Rep. Judy Chu, California Democrat.

When the ERA cleared Congress in 1972, lawmakers put a seven-year deadline on getting the 38 states needed for ratification. As of 1979 only 35 had ratified and Congress passed legislation it said extended the deadline by three more years.

By 1982, no new states had ratified.

Meanwhile, five of the 35 said they had de-ratified.

The amendment sat dormant until the last few years, when ERA backers decided the deadline could be ignored or changed. Nevada and Illinois ratified in 2017 and 2018. Virginia, after Democrats gained control of its General Assembly, ratified this year.

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