Skip Navigation
Expert Brief

The Equal Rights Amendment’s Revival: Questions for Congress, the Courts and the American People

After a long period of dormancy, the campaign to ratify the ERA has sprung back to life. Are we just one state away from ratifying the Twenty-Eighth Amendment?

Published: October 9, 2019

This expert brief was presen­ted at the Bren­nan Center’s 2018 Equal Rights Amend­ment Symposium with NYU Review of Law & Social Change.

On March 22, 1972, Congress approved the language of a proposed Equal Rights Amend­ment.1 The meas­ure had the simple – and long sought – goal of enshrin­ing the prin­ciple of gender equal­ity in our Consti­tu­tion, giving Congress the express power to enforce its provi­sions through legis­la­tion. To go into effect, the ERA required the approval of 38 of the 50 state legis­latures. Congress set a dead­line of seven years, which it later exten­ded to ten. But despite strong early momentum, the campaign faltered three states short of the goal.2 Complic­at­ing matters further, five state legis­latures voted to rescind their earlier support. In March 1982, ERA proponents conceded defeat.

Now, after a long period of dormancy, the campaign to ratify the ERA has sprung back to life. In March 2017, the Nevada legis­lature lent its approval.3 And in May 2018, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify.4 Does this mean, as proponents say, that we are just one state away from rati­fy­ing the Twenty-Eighth Amend­ment? The answer hinges on two proced­ural ques­tions with no settled answer. Also unclear is who gets to decide: Congress, the courts, or the Amer­ican people?

Read the full essay: