I got the surprise of my life when people were complaining about a DR editorial. You mean the BYH column is not the...

Time has come for equal rights amendment

Steve and Cokie Roberts

Cokie and Steve Roberts


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Women finally achieved the right to vote when the 19th Amendment became law in 1920. Here's a good way to celebrate its centennial: Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment — or ERA — that completes the job of banning all forms of gender-based discrimination, not just in the voting booth.

The entire amendment contains only 24 words: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." As Sens. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, and Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, wrote in The Washington Post: "It's a little less than a tweet, but it will make a positive difference in the lives of millions of women."

Here's why: Under current law, discrimination "on account of sex" is not subject to "strict scrutiny," the most rigorous legal standard and the one applied to racial injustice. The ERA would change that, equalizing the tests that apply to both race and gender, and making it much harder to justify biases aimed at women.

Legal experts agree that the ERA is needed to clarify the law, since there is still a lot of confusion and uncertainty about how federal courts should interpret claims of sex discrimination.

The ERA was first proposed in 1923, but it was not approved by Congress until 1972. Lawmakers mandated a seven-year period for ratification and later extended the deadline to 10 years, but fierce opposition from conservative women, led by activist Phyllis Schlafly, stalled the ratification effort. By 1982, only 35 states had approved the measure, three short of the 38 needed.

The amendment fell into deep hibernation until it was revived by a combination of powerful forces: the defeat of Hillary Clinton, the rise of Donald Trump and, most important, the growing prominence and potency of women in public life, who fueled the Women's March and the #MeToo movement and ran for office in record numbers.

The new Congress includes 102 women in the House and 25 in the Senate — both historic highs. Nancy Pelosi, the first female speaker, has reclaimed that office. Three female senators have already entered the race for the Democratic presidential nomination and others are likely to follow.

Two years ago, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the ERA, and last year, Illinois became the 37th, leaving one state to go. Virginia came close last month, with the amendment passing the state senate, but it got blocked by four Republicans in an obscure sub-committee of the house.

"The only thing you've done is added fuel to the fire," Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, the measure's lead sponsor, told opponents after the defeat. "We will be back."

They will be back, but obstacles remain. Opponents of the ERA have hauled out the old scare tactics and fear-mongering that helped quash the amendment more than 30 years ago, including the totally unfounded charge that it would lead to unlimited taxpayer-funded abortions.

Another problem is that the statutory limit for passing the amendment expired in 1982, but that's not insurmountable. The Constitution makes no mention of time limits for amendments, and none were imposed until the 18th Amendment, mandating Prohibition was advanced, in 1917.

The deadline has already been extended once, and to guard against legal challenges, bipartisan bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress that would formally extend the deadline a second time.

This is the real question: Is the ERA needed today? Ironically, foes maintain it's not essential because women have made so much progress without it, but that is a disingenuous argument that ignores the gender-based disparities that still exist, starting with unequal pay for equal work.

The unbalanced and unfair legal status of women could not be clearer. Supporters of the ERA point to the late Antonin Scalia, the most influential conservative jurist of his age, who said in a 2011 interview: "Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't."

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a leading supporter of the ERA, agrees with Scalia. Since "our Constitution does not contain the word 'women' ... it does not guarantee our equal rights," she argues. "So we need to make it clear, that equal means equal. To do that we must spell it out in the Constitution. ... Now is the time."

Yes, it is.

Steve and Cokie Roberts are longtime commentators and reporters. They can be contacted by email at stevecokie@gmail.com.


Humans of Greenville


Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

Op Ed

August 21, 2019

For many parents, August is a month of both pride and tears. Pride because their teenager is taking that big educational step and tears because for many it's the beginning of an empty nest. Yet, there's a going-away-to-college question that far too few parents ask or even contemplate: What will my…

Walter Williams

August 18, 2019

I have had the distinct honor and privilege of leading the Greenville VA Health Care Center as the Administrator and Associate Administrator since November 2016.

Over the past two and a half years, I have enjoyed working all of the veterans and staff members as we grew together, overcame obstacles,…


July 23, 2019

Since being sworn in January, I have been working hard to help the people I represent in Lenoir and Pitt counties — and the biggest opportunity to do this has been through the state budget. I’ve talked with elected officials, educators, administrators, nonprofits, business owners,…


July 12, 2019

Over the past three years, I have had the good fortune to work on a project that has the potential to transform the farming landscape in eastern North Carolina, one that involves harnessing gas produced from hog waste.

As CEO and founder of OptimaBio, our work with Smithfield Foods to capture…


July 01, 2019

The American system of checks and balances government does not work the way most people think it does or the way the Founding Fathers said it would.

The president serves at the pleasure of Congress, just as the prime minister of the UK serves at the pleasure of Parliament, which means that the…


June 26, 2019

Several Democratic presidential hopefuls are calling for Americans to make reparations for slavery. On June 19, the House judiciary subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights and civil liberties held a hearing. Its stated purpose was "to examine, through open and constructive discourse, the…

Walter Williams

June 10, 2019

The New York Times 

“Because it’s there.” For those who grew up on George Mallory’s famous explanation for his yearning to scale Mount Everest, with all the romance, danger and spirit of exploration it implied, that viral photograph of an endless line of climbers in…

June 10, 2019

Although it may not appear so, the leaders of both major political parties in North Carolina favor lowering the tax burden of large businesses. Their real dispute is about the scope and magnitude of the tax relief.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has consistently opposed recent state budgets, crafted by…

john hood.jpg

June 10, 2019

We are just weeks away from the first of 20 Democratic debates scheduled this primary season. It gets underway over two nights in Miami on June 26 and 27, and never before has there been a debate this early in the election and potentially this important.

The reason there are so many candidates, 23…


June 09, 2019

Gerrymandering has always been part of American politics. After all, the term was coined in 1812 after Massachusetts governor and Founding Father Elbridge Gerry endorsed a state senate district that resembled a salamander.

Until recently, federal courts have been highly reluctant to enter the…

Steve and Cokie Roberts
102 stories in Op Ed. Viewing 1 through 10.
«First Page   «Previous Page        
Page 1 of 11
        Next Page»   Last Page»