Usher in a New ERA

It is so exciting to have the Milwaukee Brewers back in the post-season. They’re loaded with quick, young talent that can crush the ball and fly around the bases. But they also have a great starting rotation of pitchers and a deep bullpen.

So there’s been a lot of talk this fall about ERA, but people aren’t discussing a pitcher’s Earned Run Average – they’re actually talking about the Equal Rights Amendment.

The Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in Congress in 1923 as a proposed addition to the U.S. Constitution. The proposal reads that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Even though it was introduced almost 100 years ago, it has yet to be ratified.

After being debated for decades, the measure was actually passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate in 1972. However, for an amendment to be added to the Constitution, a minimum of 38 states have to ratify it. By the time the deadline for the states to ratify the amendment arrived in 1982, not enough states had done so.

As the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have grown, so has interest in the passage of the ERA. In May, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the amendment, meaning just one more state is needed for the ERA to be added to the Constitution. Earlier this year, efforts to pass the ERA in Arizona, Florida and Virginia all failed. In addition to those three, the remaining states who have not ratified the ERA are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah.

Wisconsin adopted the ERA in April of 1972, and our state actually has a strong history with the proposed amendment. In 1920, the 19th Amendment was adopted, which allowed women to vote. Suffragist leader Alice Paul, who was the head of the National Woman’s Party, asserted that women should be on equal terms with men in all regards, even if that meant sacrificing benefits given to women through protective legislation, such as shorter work hours, no heavy lifting or working at night.

The NWP’s views gained traction in Wisconsin, which passed the Wisconsin Equal Rights Law in 1921. The party then brought the ERA to the federal government, where it was introduced in Congress in 1923. The ERA was reintroduced in every congressional session until it was adopted by both Houses in 1972.

Nearly a century later, Wisconsin Representative Tammy Baldwin introduced legislation on March 8, 2011, the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, to remove the congressionally imposed deadline for the states to ratify the ERA. But the measure was not adopted.

Therefore, because the deadline for ratification passed in 1982, even if the 38th state adopts the ERA, it would not automatically be added to the Constitution; having it included would require additional legal action. This action could consist simply of Congress agreeing to extend the deadline. Presumably because 38 states would have already approved of the amendment, an extension would be granted. However, 40 years have passed since some states ratified the ERA, so there’s no guarantee an extension would be approved.

Many of the women I spoke to felt the ratification of the ERA is extremely important to recognize the equality of the sexes. They feel men shouldn’t be favored in the Constitution because men are just like horoscopes – they’re always telling you what to do and they’re almost always wrong.

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Reg P. Wydeven

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps from a young age, Reg’s practice primarily consists of advising individuals on estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. As Reg represents clients in matters like guardianship proceedings and long-term care admissions, he feels grateful to be able to offer families thorough legal help in their time of need.

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