Maloney urges Biden and Harris to finally make the Equal Rights Amendment part of the U.S. Constitution

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney at a Nov. 22 press conference in front of The Strand Bookstore.
Photo by Mark Hallum

New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney wants the Biden administration to seize the best opportunity in years to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a nearly 50-year effort to formally encode gender equality in the U.S. Constitution.

Maloney, who represents parts of western Queens, northern Brooklyn, Midtown Manhattan and the Lower East Side, wrote to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday urging that they move toward completing the ratification of the amendment. That process was impeded, according to the congresswoman, by former President Donald Trump, who signed a legal memo during his administration which prevented the certification process with the National Archivist from moving forward.

The Biden-Harris ticket had made ratifying the ERA a campaign promise in the 2020 election.

The ERA — which would formally acknowledge that all men and women are created equal, and endowed with the same inalienable rights — met the first two phases of the three-part ratification process in Congress between 1971 and 1972, securing sufficient majorities in the House and Senate. But the ERA came with a sunset clause in the form of a deadline for ratification within seven years of Congressional approval.

All Constitutional amendments must receive a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress, then be approved by three-fourths of all state legislatures, to be fully ratified. Constitutional amendments are so rare that there have been just 27 amendments since the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1789 — with the most recent amendment ratified 28 years ago, in 1992.

The Equal Rights Amendment text

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission by the Congress:

“Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

“Section. 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

“Section. 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”

A few states short of ratification, the deadline was extended in 1979 by three years, but it lapsed in 1982 without any other states taking up the amendment for a vote.

The MeToo movement revived efforts in recent years to get the ERA ratified. Nevada’s legislature passed the ERA in 2017, followed a year later by legislators in Illinois. Finally, last January, Virginia became the 38th state of the Union to approve the ERA, meeting the three-fourths requirement for ratification — though some constitutional scholars dispute its validity due to the expired sunset clause. 

The Trump memo that blocked the ratification process, according to Maloney, “is unsupported by law and contradictors prior guidance issued by the National Archivist indicating that he would publish the Equal Rights Amendment upon receiving notice of ratification by the 38th state, which has now occurred.”

Maloney, who has sponsored Congressional legislation to ratify the ERA every year since 1997, told the Biden administration that it’s time to make the amendment a reality.

“Now that the Equal Rights Amendment has been ratified by a majority of states, I urge you to prioritize your campaign promise and direct the National Archivist to immediately perform his ministerial role as required by law to publish the Equal Rights Amendment as part of the Constitution of the United States,” Maloney wrote in her letter to Biden and Harris.

She added that the House also has plans to pass a resolution “eliminating the arbitrary timeline previously imposed for ratification” of the ERA. Maloney urged Vice President Harris to “encourage the Senate to prioritize this issue” in the weeks ahead.

“This is the single most consequential action any of us can take to ensure gender equality for all,” Maloney wrote. “Your swift action on the Equal Rights Amendment is of utmost importance.”