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Statewide group joins suit pressing to ratify women's rights

BY SHELBIE GOULDING
shelbie@theitem.com
Posted 7/4/20

A South Carolina organization filed an amicus brief with two other states on June 29 in support of a lawsuit demanding the federal government add the Equal Rights Amendment as the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Equal Means ERA of South …

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Statewide group joins suit pressing to ratify women's rights

Posted

A South Carolina organization filed an amicus brief with two other states on June 29 in support of a lawsuit demanding the federal government add the Equal Rights Amendment as the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Equal Means ERA of South Carolina, 38 Agree for Georgia, LARatifyERA of Louisiana and the Conference of Mayors addressed in their brief the policy implications and outcomes of ratifying or refusing to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment almost 50 years after it was passed for ratification.

"It's important because women are not in the Constitution of the United States. The only right that women specifically have within the Constitution is the right to vote," said Barbara Fry, leader of Equal Means ERA, a nonpartisan group of women and men who have come together to support South Carolina's ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Fry said every right the U.S. currently has is based on interpreting the Constitution in a way that gives women rights, but nothing in the Constitution is written directly for women rights.

The 14th Amendment was one of three amendments that were passed after the Civil War to recognize African-Americans in this country. Fry said the 14th Amendment was for males, in which she noted "male" was stated three times in the amendment, and the 15th gave those citizens the right to vote. However, women still had no constitutional rights.

It wasn't until the 19th Amendment was passed that women were written into the Constitution, giving them the right to vote, but that was just a stepping stone, Fry said. Women need to be treated as equals to men, she said, and adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution will be a victory for all.

The Equal Rights Amendment was proposed by suffragist and women's rights activist Alice Paul in 1923 and passed by Congress in 1972. However, the amendment has yet to become part of the U.S. Constitution. A proposed amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the U.S., or 38 of the 50 states, according to Article V of the Constitution.

In January, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, but the U.S. is questioning the amendment's validity based on Congress having a set ratification deadline of March 22, 1979, and five states having rescinded their ratification in the '70s.

Virginia, Illinois and Nevada are the three most recent states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and their attorneys general are all suing David S. Ferriero, the archivist of the United States who is responsible for keeping track of constitutional amendments and has moved to dismiss the states' lawsuit seeking the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, according to the case documents.

Fry said the archivist's job regarding amendments is to make sure each state follows the necessary procedures for ratification, and if so, publish the result in the Federal Register. She said Ferriero did that with Nevada and Illinois, but when Virginia ratified, he knew the 38-state threshold would be met. Rather than certifying it, she said, he asked the Justice Department for an opinion, and the department said it was invalid and instructed him not to publish.

The U.S. House voted in February to abolish the ratification deadline, and the Senate has not voted on the matter.

Opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment say it may enhance abortion rights and threaten traditional child custody and alimony dispute approaches.

The brief addresses that by ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, the United States would join all other industrialized nations in guaranteeing equality for women. The U.S. is currently the only industrialized country with a Constitution that does not specifically mention equality on the basis of sex, according to the case documents.

It also states the addition of the Equal Rights Amendment ratified into the Constitution may allow sex discrimination claims to be subjected to a strict scrutiny analysis by courts. Currently, strict scrutiny is only applied to discrimination because of race, religion and national origin, according to the case documents.

The brief also states the amendment will provide uniform protections from sex-based discrimination across the United States for the first time in history, citing pay discrimination as an example, pointing to that despite the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, employers can still pay men more than women based on factors including salary history "even if those factors are ultimately based on sex" because of a history of pay inequity.

"We want the word 'sex' to have the same connotation, and we're set in the same category within the Constitution as race and religion and nation of origin," Fry said. "Those are all classes you cannot discriminate against."

The organizations are represented by Southern Legal Counsel based in Gainesville, Florida, and the law firm of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C. In an effort to be fully transparent with our readers, The Sumter Item Executive Editor Kayla Green has a direct familial connection to SLC.