N.C. legislators push for 28th Constitution amendment

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A group of North Carolina lawmakers, led in part by state Sen. Valerie Foushee, will push for the N.C. General Assembly to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution during the 2021 session.

Foushee (D-Dist. 23) — whose district includes Chatham and Orange counties — plans to sponsor a bill in the N.C. Senate to ratify the ERA as she has in previous sessions. She hosted a press conference last Thursday, along with other legislators and ERA supporters, to promote their objective.

Last year, the proposal was submitted as SB184 which would have “ratifie(d) the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” according to the bill’s digest. It further required “that the Governor forward certified copies of the act and its preamble to the Administrator of General Services, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of the US Congress.”

Bills which have not been passed into law expire at the end of legislative sessions, but this year’s version is likely to reflect the same or similar language.

In past years, the Republican-dominant General Assembly has rejected calls for ratification. But Foushee hopes events of recent months will inspire a new bipartisan contingency in support of the ERA.

“I am excited to be here with my colleagues and other advocates,” Foushee said, “hoping that the third time, at least in my tenure, is the charm.”

The ERA has been under consideration much longer than any current legislator has served, though. The amendment was first introduced to Congress in 1923 by suffragists eager to legalize equal rights for all U.S. citizens regardless of sex. It would take almost 50 years for Congress to pass the ERA, thereby submitting it for the next step in the amendment process — ratification by states.

At least three-fourths of the country’s states, or 38, must ratify a proposed amendment for it to be adopted into the U.S. Constitution. Congress twice provided deadlines by which the states could ratify the amendment, 1979 and 1982, but only 35 supported the ERA within the time limit.

Under Republican-led Congresses, the ERA has faced regular opposition.

“Now that we have Democratic control of the White House and Congress,” Foushee said, “I am even more sure that we will make really significant progress on the ERA this year. It’s really exciting.”

Passage of the ERA, Foushee said, would “guarantee equal pay, equal access and equal opportunity to everyone.”

“Our nation was founded on the principle that all, not just men, are created equal,” she added.

Opposers to ratification of the ERA argue that laws have already been created to ensure equal rights between men and women, thereby rendering a constitutional amendment redundant and unnecessary.

In response, Foushee argues that equality must be indelibly protected in the nation’s post powerful document — its Constitution — to guarantee that future lawmakers are unable to revise the country’s stance.

“We know that laws can be subject to political whims,” Foushee said, “that they can be changed, weakened or repealed. It is imperative at this time that these rights are enshrined without expiration dates, that (they) don’t have to be reauthorized annually. Now is the time for our state and federal constitution to reflect and protect the rights of women.”

Events of the past summer, when equal-rights advocates demanded nationwide reckoning, have spotlighted legislative efforts to adopt the ERA, and Kamala Harris’ inauguration as vice president last week has signaled to ERA-advocates that the country’s political bent may finally be amendable to change.

“(Last Wednesday’s) inauguration was historic on several fronts. Of paramount importance was the swearing in of the nation’s first woman vice president,” Foushee said, “evidence that women are breaking barriers and cracking ceilings — glass and otherwise — contributing to the progress, prosperity and the preservation of the principles that make this a great nation, that our faces are more present in more spaces and places than ever before.”

But such progress, Foushee and her colleagues argue, only emphasizes a glaring lack of protection under law.

“We recently made history when we inaugurated the first female vice president of the United States, a momentous occasion, but also an ironic one,” Lori Bunton, co-president of the ERA-NC Alliance, said at the press conference. “The person holding the second-highest office in the land is not fully represented in our country’s most sacred document, the U.S. Constitution.”

Whether it is of legal consequence for states such as North Carolina to ratify the ERA, though, is the subject of some debate.

Since the Equal Rights Amendment failed to meet Congress’ 1982 deadline extension, three additional states have ratified the ERA, ostensibly fulfilling the 38-state minimum requirement. Opposers, however, argue that passed-deadline ratifications are ineligible for consideration in Congress.

Also, five states — Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee, and South Dakota — originally voted to ratify the ERA, but have since revoked their ratifications. It remains legally unclear, though, whether states have the autonomy to rescind ratifications.

To Foushee, such arguments are moot. She believes Congress has the necessary support to move forward with the ERA’s adoption into the Constitution. Still, it’s important to her that North Carolina continuing with ratification of the amendment.

“For me,” she said, “passage of this proposed legislation and the subsequent ratification of this amendment will signal bipartisan agreement that as North Carolinians and as Americans we believe in equal rights for all.”

If the ERA is adopted, it will be the 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It states: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

“Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article,” it continues. Upon adoption, “this amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”

“Truly it is time,” Foushee said, “I would say past time, to move forward in ensuring equal rights for women in this great state and in our nation.”

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.


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