Online Originals: A century-old battle for Equal Rights Amendment, how N.C. could play a role

Politics

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — North Carolina legislators are looking to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Dr. Karin Zipf, a women’s history professor from East Carolina University, says this has been a legislative battle for nearly a century. 

“Alice Paul wrote the original Equal Rights Amendment. She wrote it in the 1920s, and it has gone forward to Congress since then,” Zipf said.

It was rejected in Congress for about fifty years, until the 1970s.   

“So in 1972, especially with the push for bringing women more rights in the workplace, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment,” Zipf said.

Progressives advocated for the Equal Rights Amendment, even after the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed. The Civil Rights Act ended segregation and made it illegal to discriminate a person based on their race and a variety of other factors, including gender. But that Act has been fought in the legal system.

“And while there are Supreme Court cases that uphold the 1964 act, who’s to say what the Supreme Court would decide if for some reason that act should be undermined,” Zipf said.

Ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment would make it unconstitutional to discriminate between men and women. Zipf explains what that could look like. 

“It could have effect on women in the military, it will certainly accelerate women’s opportunities in the military. And family leave policies. So like, for example, giving women more time for maternity leave than man should be considered unconstitutional,” Zipf said.

The Supreme Court will ultimately decide whether or not to add the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. There are many challenges the ERA faces, but Zipf said the biggest one is time.

“Congress at one point put out a time period,” Zipf said. “This is a little more arbitrary than it sounds. We have to have a time period on our amendments ratification, that time period was scheduled to elapse in 1982, like that bill says. When the time period elapsed, Congress took up the issue of the ERA again,” 

The second time around, they rejected the ERA. But, last year, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment. This brings it to the Supreme Court to be decided in a legal battle.

Zipf said if North Carolina ratifies the amendment, it shows strength in the Supreme Court case since North Carolina originally rejected it.

“Whether North Carolina passes this amendment or not, or ratifies this amendment, doesn’t matter because Virginia has ratified the amendment, and that amendment has received the number of states required for ratification, it’s just that it’s all about this time period. So, North Carolina would sort of be like icing on the cake,” said Zipf.  

Besides the Supreme Court battle, the ERA is also facing challenges from the left and the right, because of its dated language. The language in the bill says men and women and does not include other genders. Language in bills cannot be changed once a state ratifies them. 

Zipf said North Carolina’s legislative history with the ERA can give her an idea of what will happen in the General Assembly.   

“I think that North Carolina will probably be first of all, generally negative about ratifying anything about this,” Zipf said. “And if there are … if there is momentum, it’s going be kind of chaotic momentum.”  

Read the House Bill here

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