Opinion: ERA runs into political reality

A longshot effort by Democrats to get the Equal Rights Amendment added to the U.S. Constitution suffered another legal defeat this week, just as supporters were holding their first U.S. Senate hearing on the matter in a decade.

“There’s sort of some breaking news here,” said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., as he relayed the ruling by a three-judge federal appeals panel, which landed like a gut punch for Democrats.

“The basic principle with which I believe the overwhelming majority of Americans agree,” said U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, is “that there should not be discrimination on the basis of sex.”

Making clear his support for the ERA, Ossoff told Senators how his mother joined in marches for the amendment in the 1970′s. He’s mentioned before that she had him wearing an ‘ERA NOW’ button as a toddler.

But Democrats have never been able to close the deal on the plan.

The original amendment – which was sent to the states in 1972 by Congress — had a seven-year ratification time frame. Congress added another three years, but by 1982, Georgia and 14 other states refused to ratify the plan, leaving the ERA three states short of approval.

Over the years, more states approved it, and some rescinded their earlier votes. Two states – Illinois and Nevada – sued to order the federal archivist to certify the ERA as the 28th amendment.

But two different federal courts have now rejected that legal bid.

“Which puts the ball right smack dab back in Congress’s court,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

The timing of this week’s appeals court ruling — right in the middle of that U.S. Senate hearing — sure seemed like it was sending a blunt message to Democrats.

In 2020, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said ERA proponents should start over in Congress, and not try to rely on some kind of legal end run to amend the Constitution.

At this week’s hearing, Graham eagerly reminded Democrats of Ginsburg’s advice.

“If you started this process today, you wouldn’t come anywhere near two-thirds of the House and Senate to ratify this amendment,” Graham said, his voice rising, as he cited issues like abortion. “You would fail miserably.”

It’s clear that passions still run very high about the ERA, as Graham was quickly interrupted by a woman shouting back from the audience.

“I understand that you do not like us to express our opinions,” the woman yelled while being hauled out of the hearing room.

That’s where Democrats still are on the ERA — a lot of energy, but not enough votes.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com