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'No expiration date on equality': House passes bill to remove women's rights ERA deadline

A judge ruled this month that time had run out for the Equal Rights Amendment.
Democratic lawmakers stand on the House steps after passing a joint resolution to remove the Equal Rights Amendment deadline in Washington March 17, 2021.
Democratic lawmakers stand on the House steps in Washington on Wednesday after passing a joint resolution to remove the Equal Rights Amendment deadline.Caroline Brehman / CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

The House passed a resolution Wednesday to remove the deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment — just weeks after a federal judge ruled that time had already run out.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said the passage of her joint resolution by a vote of 222-204 made it clear that "there can be no expiration date on equality."

A companion joint resolution in the Senate, which was introduced by Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Ben Cardin, D-Md., faces a steeper climb; at least 10 Republicans will have to join all 50 Democrats for it to pass. Only four Republicans voted for the measure in the House, including Tom Reed of New York, Speier's co-sponsor.

The amendment says: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

Virginia became the 38th state to sign off on the amendment in January 2020 — the number needed to officially make it the 28th Amendment. Opponents of the measure, which was introduced in 1972, said the window to ratify the amendment closed almost 40 years ago, citing a seven-year limit on ratification in its preamble. The deadline was later extended by three years — meaning it expired in 1982.

While the Constitution doesn't put a time limit on states' ratifying an amendment — the 27th Amendment took more than 200 years to become a reality — U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras of Washington, D.C., ruled this month that the deadline set in the introduction of the ERA "is just as effective as one in the text of a proposed amendment.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has said he is weighing his legal options, including an appeal of Contreras' order.

President Joe Biden applauded the House's effort. “[I]t is long past time that we enshrine the principle of gender equality in our Constitution,” Biden said, adding that “no one’s rights should be denied on account of their sex.”

The ERA vote was one of two scheduled Wednesday in the House in honor of Women's History Month.

The House also voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which expired in 2019. The vote came a day after a mass shooting in Atlanta that authorities said targeted women working at spas who appeared to be Asian.

The original measure — which was aimed at helping to stop domestic abuse, violence and sexual harassment against women and girls and at providing resources to victims and survivors — was championed by Biden when he was in the Senate.

The House voted to reauthorize the act in 2019, but it stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate amid complaints from the National Rifle Association that it was an attempt to close the so-called boyfriend loophole by prohibiting gun purchases by those convicted of stalking or abusing people with whom they have been in relationships. Previous prohibitions covered only married couples.

The current version of the bill still includes the attempt to close the loophole. The bill passed by a vote of 244-172, with 29 Republicans voting in favor.

Biden hailed the vote afterwards.

"This should not be a Democratic or Republican issue — it’s about standing up against the abuse of power and preventing violence," Biden said in a statement. "Now, I urge the Senate to follow past precedent and bring a strong bipartisan coalition together to ensure the passage of VAWA so that I can sign this legislation as soon as possible."

Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., complained on the House floor before the vote that "Democrats are using domestic violence, which is a serious issue, as a front for just their latest gun control bill."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the need for the legislation is urgent.

"One in 3 women today face domestic abuse," Pelosi said. "And partner violence is on the rise during the pandemic as many women are forced to quarantine in homes that are not safe."