Simple Justice, Long Overdue – Why We Need ERA Now!

Many people today take for granted that equal rights between men and women are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution – and are shocked when they learn that they are not. To this day, the right to vote is the only right guaranteed to the women.  And women make up more than 50% of the U.S. population.

The National Organization for Women has a long history of working for the Equal Rights Amendment.  Most of the women I know who joined NOW in the 1960s, 1970s or early 1980s joined to pass the ERA. That is true of NC NOW activists as well.  And many are still working for equality and fairness for women and others.

In fact we still have buttons and signs (ERA YES, green on white) from the 1970s and 1980s! We finally laminated them in 2013, though.  We have used these signs repeatedly. For example, we used them on May 14, 2013, when NC NOW and NC4ERA went to rally in front of the Legislative Building to celebrate  the annual introduction of ERA in Congress.  Also in October of 2013, when we held a rally at the Employment Security Commission in Fayetteville NC after our 2013 NC NOW conference there.  And many times since.

NOW has studied the ERA and the need for the ERA for decades.   Task forces came up with a more detailed version of ERA in the 1990s.  But the need for ERA has never been more clear than with the Supreme Court since Justice Roberts got to lead it.

There are examples of discrimination in

  • Employment
  • Reproductive Rights
  • Insurance
  • Pensions
  • Social Security
  • Lesbian and Gay Rights
  • Education

It is relatively easy to discriminate since women are not written into the Constitution.  Although discrimination is much more of a problem now with the current majority on the US Supreme Court. In fact, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia declared his beliefs in an interview in legal magazine California Lawyer that equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not protect against discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation.

With women’s rights under increased attack, their economic security in peril and attitudes like Scalia’s, as NOW president Terry O’Neill said in 2011, “it’s abundantly clear that guaranteeing protection from sex discrimination is not just a moral imperative — it’s urgent.”

In just a few days at the end of June in 2014, the US Supreme Court ruled against women in THREE disastrous cases.

  • In McCullen v. Coakley, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics in which protest was forbidden is a violation of the First Amendment.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that for-profit employers can decide whether or not to cover their employees’ birth control and contraception. Strictly speaking, the conservative majority ruled that for-profit corporations with religious objections can opt out of providing contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
  • In Harris v. Quinn, the Supreme Court ruled against unions and against home-care workers (90% of whom are women and minorities).

See “FB: 3 Monumentally Disastrous SCOTUS Rulings – for Women, 7/14/14”, at for more information on all three cases.

These rulings are terrible for women. And if women had the ERA to back them up, such cases would have to go through strict judicial review.

Title IX was a huge win for women.  Title IX is the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. Still, far too many students are denied equal educational opportunities. We want to eliminate and prevent barriers to students’ success in school. Although Title IX is best known for breaking down barriers in sports for women and girls, it also opens the door for girls to pursue math and science, requires fair treatment for pregnant and parenting students, and protects students from bullying and sexual harassment, among other things.  <Find Kim Gandy’s column on Title IX>

Speaking of discrimination against pregnant women, we have more recent cases.  On May 14, 2013, the day before NC NOW and NC4ERA went to rally in front of the NC Legislative Building, National Women’s Law Center blog a new article “We Don’t Pay You To Pee!”.  Find it at”we-dont-pay-you-pee”-and-other-reasons-why-we-need-pregnant-workers-fairness-act

Legal discourse about “standards of review” ultimately must yield to the bleak reality that hard-won laws against sex discrimination do not rest on any constitutional foundation and can be enforced fully, inconsistently, or not at all.  Women seeking enforcement of these laws must not only convince the court that discrimination has occurred, but that it matters.  (source?) 

Sometimes Congress manages to pass a federal law to correct a specific discrimination situation – like passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.  The Lilly Ledbedder Fair Pair Act restored  the protection against pay discrimination that was stripped away by the Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.  Read more about the Act and the Supreme Court ruling which caused it at the National Women’s Law Center’s Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act fact sheet at

“The Act reinstates prior law and makes clear that pay discrimination claims on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age, religion and disability “accrue” whenever an employee receives a discriminatory paycheck, as well as when a discriminatory pay decision or practice is adopted, when a person becomes subject to the decision or practice, or when a person is otherwise affected by the decision or practice. The law is retroactive to May 28, 2007, the day before the Court issued its ruling in Ledbetter.”

Lilly Ledbetter Pay Act was the first bill signed into law by President Barack Obama on January 29, 2009. The Act amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The new act states that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination resets with each new paycheck affected by that discriminatory action.  However, the law ONLY addresses a small part of pay discrimination – it really just undoes a bad Supreme Court ruling.  It doesn’t fix other aspects of unequal pay.

Unfortunately, most cases with rulings that hurt women are not fixed by laws going through US Congress.

There are 2 main strategies for passing ERA, and NOW supports both of them – the three-state strategy and the traditional ratification process.  Women need the ERA,  whatever the way!  An equality guarantee in the Constitution would be an effective tool to counter attacks on women’s access to health care and slashed funding for government programs that serve and employ mostly women.

The  Equal  Rights  Amendment  is essential because, without clear acknowledgement of women’s right to equal protection of the law, sex discrimination is not unconstitutional.  If women were written into the constitution, we wouldn’t need laws to fix parts of the whole – like a Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to restore one thing and a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act for obvious needed protections for pregnant women.  An equality guarantee in the Constitution would be an effective tool to counter attacks on women’s access to health care and slashed funding for government programs that serve and employ mostly women.  Plus, with the makeup of the Supreme Court having changed so much since 2000, with consistent rulings against the interests of women and working people, the need for ERA is more clear than ever.

1. U.S. Census Bureau Quick Facts, 2013-2014


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