Conference of Mayors joins fight to implement Equal Rights Amendment

By: - June 30, 2020 12:02 pm

At the 2019 Women’s March in Tallahassee, marchers from around the state called for passage of the ERA, equal pay for equal work, and support for planned parenthood. Photo: Colin Hackley

A national push to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment nearly 50 years after it was proposed by Congress grew stronger Monday with a legal boost from the U.S. Conference of Mayors and pro-ERA organizations in Georgia, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

The ERA would guarantee in the U.S. Constitution equal rights regardless of sex. It has been ratified over the years in 38 states, most recently in Virginia, achieving the requisite three-fourths of states needed to amend the nation’s supreme legal document.

The Trump Administration’s Department of Justice and attorneys general in red states such as Alabama, Louisiana, Nebraska, and Tennessee (but not Florida) oppose ratification on various grounds. Their legal arguments hinge on the expiration of the 1982 deadline for ratification and on the fact that five states rescinded their ratifications during the 1970s.

The U.S House of Representatives voted in February to abolish the deadline; the Senate has not voted on the measure.

The Conference of Mayors, Equal Means Equal, 38 Agree for Georgia, and LARatifyERA filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief Monday in U.S District Court in the District of Columbia in support of a pro-ERA lawsuit filed in January by attorneys general for Virginia, Illinois, and Nevada, the last three states to ratify.

The Conference of Mayors represents mayors of 1,400 cities with populations greater than 30,000.

Among the points raised in the brief are that all other industrialized nations guarantee equality for women; under the ERA, sex discrimination claims would be subject to greater court scrutiny, as are claims of discrimination based on race, religion, and national origin; and the ERA would provide uniform protection from sex-based discrimination for the first time in history.

The brief argues that a nationwide constitutional amendment is required, not just statutes, because even under the Equal Pay Act of 1963, “employers can still pay men more than women based on factors including salary history” even when the salary history itself is based on a decades of pay inequity.

The brief was written by Gainesville-based Southern Legal Counsel and the law firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, with 21 offices across the Southeast.

ERA foes in their legal filings cite concerns about the ERA bolstering abortion rights and threatening traditional approaches to child-custody disputes and alimony.

The lawsuit calls upon Federal Archivist David Ferriero to record Virginia’s vote to ratify, triggering implementation of the ERA and making it law. The Department of Justice instructed Ferriero not to accept the document, thus blocking implementation.

A cascade of lawsuits followed, including the one in which the Conference of Mayors and other ERA allies hope to intervene. Equal Means Equal, an advocacy group for the ERA, filed a separate lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts in January demanding that Ferriero accept and record Virginia’s historic ratification. The Department of Justice opposes that one, too.

Florida did not ratify the ERA. It last came to a vote in 1982, when it narrowly passed in the House and narrowly failed in the Senate. The Republican-led Florida Legislature refused to hold any hearings on the ERA in 2020, although numerous legislators sponsored pro-ERA and equal-pay bills.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.