By Hunter Savery, Capital News Service
Democratic Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri and Ayanna Presley of Massachusetts unveiled a new congressional caucus Tuesday with the goal of establishing the Equal Rights Amendment as the 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
“We’re here because from the start, people like me and many of my constituents were intentionally written out of our nation’s founding document,” Bush told a crowd outside the United States Capitol. “That ain’t right! The absence of foundational equality allows discrimination to persist and injustice to fester.”
Bush and Presley were joined by six other Democratic House members in launching the new Equal Rights Amendment Caucus: Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Jennifer McClellan of Virginia, Judy Chu and Sydney Kamlager-Dove, both of California, Delia Ramirez of Illinois, and Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, as well as women’s rights activists, including ERA Coalition President and CEO Zakiya Thomas.
“We’ve had so many supporters and champions of the Equal Rights Amendment in Congress in both houses and this is the first time we actually have a caucus dedicated to the Equal Rights Amendment,” Thomas told Capital News Service. “We know that this is the time, the time is now. We’ve never been closer in the 100 years this movement has been going on. And so we’re excited about the energy, the enthusiasm that these congresswomen bring, but also the movement across the board. We have overwhelming public support, support in both houses of Congress. Now we just need to get the ERA added to the Constitution.”
Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin will also serve as a vice chairman of the new caucus, although he was not present at Tuesday’s event.
“Our new ERA Caucus proves that momentum for an Equal Rights Amendment is building as more and more Americans recognize the vital importance of writing gender equality into our Constitution,” Raskin said in a statement to CNS. “I’m proud to be a founding vice chair of this new — and urgently needed — ERA Caucus, and thankful to Reps. Bush and Pressley for leading us in the fight for women’s rights and against gender discrimination.”
The movement to enshrine the Equal Rights Amendment as the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was dealt a blow in February when the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the original 1979 deadline and subsequent extension to 1982 for ratification of the amendment were binding.
The number of states needed to ratify the amendment — 38 — was not reached until 2020, long after the congressionally-mandated deadline. After Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment, an ultimately unsuccessful legal battle began to compel the Archivist of the United States to publish the amendment.
Undaunted, activists are now turning their focus to Congress.
When asked about the impact of the D.C. Court of Appeals’ ruling, Thomas told CNS: “So if you read the court decision, what they actually say is, ‘Congress it’s now up to you to make the choice to do the thing that you need to to get the Equal Rights Amendment over the finish line.’ So for me that just gives more credence and power to what we’re doing here today and the efforts that are going on in Congress to get the Equal Rights Amendment published.”
Dean noted that the first iteration of the ERA was introduced 100 years ago in 1923.
“Here we are a century later and we still haven’t gotten it done,” she said. “I now have three granddaughters, so that century is weighing on me heavily. How is it we have not protected the rights of all women, all girls in this country regardless of race or creed or color?”