U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

April 29, 2023

Right Side of History

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

This week, a bipartisan majority of the United States Senate officially expressed their support for removing the arbitrary deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and making it the 28th amendment to our Constitution.

Let that soak in. I certainly did on Thursday when this historic vote took place.

For more than a decade, I have been working with a full grassroots army of women and men who understand that constitutional equality will not be a reality until the ERA is recognized as ratified. I first introduced a similar resolution in 2012. At the time, I had only 17 cosponsors, and we were still three states short of ratification. Today, we have a bipartisan majority of senators affirming that 38 states have ratified the ERA (Virginia was the 38th in 2020).

This vote was decades in the making. I was in the Maryland House of Delegates in 1973 when the Maryland legislature ratified the ERA. For my wife, my daughter and my granddaughters, I have been working to complete ratification of the ERA to protect their rights and the rights of all persons across this nation.

The ERA simply states that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex. That’s it. That’s the very straightforward text of what the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution says.

Ratification would affirm women’s equality in our Constitution enshrining the principle of women’s equality and explicit prohibition against sex discrimination in our nation’s founding document.

Most Americans think the ERA already is part of our Constitution and nearly three-quarters support it. A majority of states, covering a supermajority of Americans, have equal rights or gender equality provisions in their state constitutions, but millions are left behind. 

At the federal level, currently, the only explicit guaranteed right in the U.S. Constitution based upon sex is the 19th amendment, which is the right to vote. Existing legal protections against sex-based discrimination fall well short of addressing systemic sex-based inequality in our society.

Congress ratified the ERA in 1972 and sent it to the states for ratification. So what were we voting on this week? Well, back in 1972, in what can only be described as a way to make it hard for the ERA to ever become law, an arbitrary deadline of seven years was included in the enabling legislation for the ERA. The deadline was not – is not – in the amendment itself. Congress extended the deadline to a full 10 years when it was clear that 38 states would not complete their ratification in time.

What we are trying to do now is follow that precedent and change the deadline again. Actually, we want to remove it entirely.

With Virginia’s ratification in 2020, the states completed their work. It’s now up to Congress to remove any doubt about the ERA being part of our Constitution. This has been a struggle, but we will make it to the finish line.

Our resolution, Senate Joint Resolution 4, would clarify, once and for all, that the ERA has met all the requirements of Article V of our Constitution.

It reads: “Notwithstanding any time limit contained in H.J.R. 208, 92nd Congress as agreed to in the Senate on March 22, 1972, the article of amendment proposed in states in that joint resolution is valid to all intents and purposes as part of the constitution having been ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states.”

As the 28th amendment, the ERA would serve as a new tool for Congress, federal agencies and in the courts to advance equality in the fields of workforce and pay, pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment and violence, reproductive autonomy, and protection of the LGBTQ+ individuals.

It’s also a signal to the courts that they should apply a more rigorous level of review to laws and government policies that discriminate on the basis of sex. That is what the ERA is all about – equality, the most fundamental of American values. 

I am disappointed by the outcome of the vote this week, but this is not the end. On Wednesday night, the eve of the Senate vote, I led my colleagues in a vigorous floor debate in support of the ERA and our resolution to affirm ratification. Not one opponent showed up to debate the merits of the resolution or equal rights. No one. It tells me that we are on the right side of history and they know it.

Make no mistake, this march towards equality on account of sex continues. We will not rest until we get the ERA into the Constitution. The states have done their job. We will get the votes necessary to make this a reality.

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to reply to this email with your feedback on this or any other issue.


Ben Cardin