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Equal Rights Amendment

The essence of the Equal Rights Amendment, first proposed in 1923 by Alice Paul, is contained in its 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." Ms Paul, a suffragist leader, considered the ERA to be the next logical step after the 19th Amendment, which had guaranteed women the right to vote. The amendment was introduced in every session of Congress, beginning in 1923 and continuing until it was finally approved and referred to the states in 1972. In 1970, Representative Shirley Chisholm delivered an address in support of the Equal Rights Amendment on the floor of the House:

Mr. Speaker, House Joint Resolution 264, before us today, which provides for equality under the law for both men and women, represents one of the most clear-cut opportunities we are likely to have to declare our faith in the principles that shaped our Constitution. It provides a legal basis for attack on the most subtle, most pervasive, and most institutionalized form of prejudice that exists. Discrimination against women, solely on the basis of their sex, is so widespread that is seems to many persons normal, natural and right. Legal expression of prejudice on the grounds of religious or political belief has become a minor problem in our society. Prejudice on the basis of race is, at least, under systematic attack. Their is reason for optimism that it will start to die with the present, older generation. It is time we act to assure full equality of opportunity to those citizens who, although in a majority, suffer the restrictions that are commonly imposed on minorities, to women.
As has been customary with amendments to the constitution, the resolution from Congress placed a time limit for ratification of seven years. The ERA gained immediate endorsement from many states, but could not get past 35, three short of the needed three-quarters majority, even when Congress extended the deadline to 1982. In subsequent sessions of Congress, attempts have been made to remove the deadline entirely, but without success. Prior to the deadline for ratification, five states (Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee, and South Dakota) rescinded their ratifications to some degree. There is no provision in the constitution for a legislature to rescind a ratification. In Kentucky, the governor vetoed the legislature's resolution to rescind, although the constitution provides no role for the governor in the ratification process. Thus, should the ERA ever achieve the threshold of 38 states, there would certainly be a constitutional challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court. The question is probably moot, as there is little prospect of another three states ratifying the ERA.