U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben


No Deadline on Equality

Dear Fellow Marylanders:

On August 26, 1920 – a mere eight days after Tennessee became the last state needed to ratify what would become the 19th amendment to our Constitution – the amendment was certified and women in the United States of America legally were granted full voting rights.

Voting is a fundamental right of American citizenship. Each year, on the anniversary of the 19th amendment, we mark Women’s Equality Day by celebrating women’s suffrage and recognizing the sustained efforts of activists like Ida B. Wells, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and Sojourner Truth who made it possible. These women represent the very best of our nation’s history in achieving equality and the ideals they fought for remain relevant in the present day.

It took 132 years from the ratification of our Constitution until women could vote. One hundred and two years later, we are still fighting for women to achieve full equality under the Constitution and the rule of law in this nation.

On January 15, 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Under Article 5 of the Constitution, Congress must approve an amendment by at least a two-thirds majority in each chamber and then three-quarters of the state legislatures must approve, or ratify, an amendment. All of these steps are completed.

It’s been 954 days since the final vote in the Virginia legislature, but yet the ERA has yet to be certified.

At present, the single biggest obstacle to equality ‘on account of sex’ – and what presumably has held back certification – is language in the preamble of the 1972 resolution putting forth the Equal Rights Amendment that set a deadline for ratification by the states. This was a rarity in our nation’s history. It was included no doubt to assuage some lawmakers who did not think it would ever pass the required states, but wanted some insurance.

The original seven-year deadline for ratification was extended to 10 years or 1982. Congress set a deadline and then changed the deadline, so it is reasonable under any legal standard to say Congress could change, or even eliminate, that same deadline again. 

The reality: the U.S. Constitution contains no time limit for ratification of constitutional amendments. In fact, the 27th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting immediate congressional pay raises was ratified 203 years after its introduction. You read that correctly – 203 years.

The House of Representatives has twice passed a resolution to remove this arbitrary deadline for ratification of the ERA. I have been proud to lead the fight in the Senate with Senator Lisa Murkowski, through S.J.Res. 1, to remove the deadline.

We have called on Senate leadership to hold a vote on S.J.Res. 1. There remain partisan obstacles to Senate passage, but all Senators – all lawmakers – should be on the record as to whether they support full equality for every person in this country under our Constitution.

There should be no deadline on equality. This is not a partisan issue but one of universal human rights. And for those who say the ERA is no longer needed, they need to look closer. Existing legal protections against sex-based discrimination fall well short of addressing systematic inequality in U.S. society. The only right explicitly guaranteed ‘regardless of sex’ in the U.S. Constitution is the 19th Amendment’s right to vote. The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment has been invoked with some success in sex discrimination cases, but the outcomes of these challenges have been inconsistent and current Supreme Court justices have made clear that a host of precedent-setting cases may be at risk of being overturned.

The ERA is needed not only to keep progress moving forward, but without explicit constitutional protection, hard-fought progress can be rolled back. The recent Dobbs decision must not become the norm for taking away established rights from Americans, especially women.

I will continue to push forward until these words become the 28th Amendment to our Constitution: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Thank you for your support in this struggle and thank you for your time. Please let me know your thoughts on this and other letters by replying to this email.

Enjoy the last bit of summer. Stay well.

    Ben Cardin