“The Equal Rights Amendment in the 21st Century: Where Have We Come From, and Where Will We Go?” is a national conference taking place on November 15-16, 2013 at Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI, sponsored by the Office of the President, Office of the Provost, School of Law, and Department of History and American Studies.
The conference will bring together scholars from such academic disciplines as history, law, gender studies, literature, and political science with practitioners from the legal and political professions and activists from grassroots organizations to discuss the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Speakers and panelists will explore past, present, and future implications of the fact that the ERA is still not in the Constitution, 90 years after it was first proposed in 1923. Participants will discuss how the ERA’s legacy in the 20th century positions the amendment in the popular, social, political, and legal consciousness of the 21st century, and they will be invited to imagine what comes next.
While the ERA is a topic touched upon in history and law courses, it has been largely minimized or forgotten by generations of Americans who believe that the Fourteenth Amendment, court precedent (such as Reed v Reed in 1971), and laws such as Title VII and Title IX sufficiently protect women’s rights. Critics consider the ERA a nuisance to be dismissed, while supporters consider it a clarion call beckoning equal rights advocates to a cause that was brushed aside in the age of Reagan.
This conference will explore issues of legal, social, and political equality in the United States, using the ERA as a frame for dialogues across academic, legal, political, and public spheres.
The Equal Rights Amendment, which has long served as a symbol of not-yet-achieved legal equality for women in the United States, is simple. It states:
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
Three years after women’s right to vote was guaranteed by the 19th Amendment in 1920, suffragist leader Alice Paul proposed the Equal Rights Amendment, which affirms the equal application of the Constitution to all persons regardless of their sex, as the next step in guaranteeing "equal justice under law" for all.
The ERA was introduced into every Congress between 1923 and 1972, when it was passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives and sent to the states for ratification. The original seven-year time limit in the ERA's proposing clause was extended by Congress to June 30, 1982, but at that deadline, the ERA had been ratified by 35 states, three states short of the 38 required to put it into the Constitution.
The ERA has been reintroduced into every Congress since 1982, and supporters are currently pursuing two modes of ratification: the traditional process described in Article V of the Constitution, and a “three-state strategy” based on legal analysis that if three more states ratify, the existing 35 ratifications may still be viable.
More information about the ERA can be found at www.equalrightsamendment.org.