from Here in the Real World
by Sara Pennypacker
HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2020
Is it true that of all modern nations in the world, only the United States does NOT have guaranteed rights for all its citizens? Well, I’m afraid so. The white men who wrote the Constitution at the Pennsylvania State House (now called Independence Hall) in Philadelphia in 1787 were men of their day. It was signed on September 17 of that year. On June 21, 1788, when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify, the Constitution was officially adopted.
Amendments seek an improvement, a correction, or a revision to the Constitution. Two thirds of both Houses must agree that an amendment is necessary in order to introduce it, and three fourths of the States need to ratify it before it's adopted. That puts the magic number at thirty-eight (3/4 of 50).
Thousands of amendments have been discussed and not proposed. To date, 27 amendments have been approved, including the first 10 (the Bill of Rights) and only six have been introduced and not adopted.
Of those, four have no expiration date, so technically still can be considered. They include a way to expand representation in the House of Representatives, prohibition of the acceptance of Titles of Nobility or other honors from a foreign power, a pro-slavery amendment sent to Congress on the eve of the Civil War, and one regulating child labor.
Two proposed amendments have expiration dates and have expired. An amendment granting the citizens of the District of Columbia full congressional representation and the ability to vote in national elections expired in 1985 with only 6 states having ratified it.
But when the original deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment came and went in 1979, Congress extended the cutoff date to June 1982. Thirty-five of the necessary thirty-eight states had ratified it by then.
Nevada ratified the amendment in 2017, and Illinois in 2018. On January 15, 2020, the Virginia legislature passed a resolution to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, the thirty-eighth state. One month later, February 13, 2020, the US House of Representatives passed a joint resolution to remove the original time limit. Ah! So why hasn’t it been adopted yet?
Well, lucky for me it doesn’t have anything to do with fractions.
Without getting too deep in the weeds or too far down a rabbit hole, it has to do with deadlines and how they are worded. In 1921, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress could put time limits into a proposed amendment, but is not required to.
For example, James Madison proposed the 27th Amendment in 1789. It was not ratified until 1992. Yep, 203 years later, 1992. That Amendment says any pay adjustment (raising or lowering) Congress may pass for itself can’t go into effect until after the next Federal Election. That Amendment did not have a deadline.
The drafters of the ERA chose to include a time limit. But they included it in the text of the amendment itself, not in the resolution language that *proposed* the Amendment. What’s the difference, you ask? Good question. Garrett Epps, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Baltimore asked it this way: If the congressional-pay amendment could come back from the dead after two centuries, why not the ERA after a mere decade and a half? Since the ERA limit has already been changed once by Congress, why can’t another Congress change it again, retroactively? https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/01/will-congress-ever-ratify-equal-rights-amendment/580849/
The answer is, it depends. Of course it does. It depends actually on two decisions. The first is congressional approval of a new time frame. Can it be changed again? So far, the House thinks so. Also, four states that had voted to ratify have since changed their mind and passed resolutions of “rescission.” A state’s vote to rescind has never been accepted as valid, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be argued.
The 14th Amendment granting citizenship to all people born or naturalized in the United States was ratified in 1868. Even though the 14th Amendment granted them citizenship, women didn’t get the right to vote for fifty-two more years. The 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920.
Section 1 of the Equal Rights Amendment says simply: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Seems to me that a statement like that should be understood within the Constitution itself. But it’s not.
All members of the Constitutional Convention were white men. They were products of their day. As a society, we have become more and more inclusive even as we have become more and more polarized.
But discrimination, (making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit https://www.dictionary.com/browse/discrimination?s=t) has no place in a society that values kindness, courtesy, and compassion.
-—stay curious! (and tolerant)