March 12, 2019

Women's History Month and the Equal Rights Amendment

   Mr. CARDIN. Madam President, this month we celebrate the storied history of incredible women in our country. We recognize the sacrifices made and the battles fought to ensure a future where our daughters and granddaughters are born into a world of equality and limitless opportunity.

   Throughout Women's History Month, we mark the historic strides women have taken to advance our culture, our sciences, our States, and our Nation. As we recognize these achievements, we must also assess and advocate for the work still to be done, including the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, the ERA. Ratifying the ERA would be a major milestone on the road to equality. Not only would ratification enshrine equal rights for women in the Constitution, it would also honor all of those who have fought for justice along the way.

   One such inspiring woman is civil rights activist Juanita Jackson Mitchell. A Baltimore native, Mrs. Mitchell fought to end legally sanctioned segregation in her community while she simultaneously reached out to young people and mobilized them into civic engagement. After she received her law degree from the University of Maryland, she was the first African-American woman to practice law in our State, and she worked tirelessly on a number of cases to provide more job opportunities for African Americans. As the President of the NAACP in Baltimore, she advocated for integration and later convinced the city to hire Black social workers, librarians, and police officers, which bolstered the community by helping to bring an end to long-held systemic prejudices.

   As a community activist and champion of women's rights, Mrs. Mitchell exhibited true bravery in her engagement with her community. She fearlessly paved the way for other women to join the movement. She worked with the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to find solutions for systemic social and educational discrepancies in communities of color. Mrs. Mitchell understood the importance of representative democracy and of empowering those who could make differences in their communities. Juanita Mitchell is a shining example of why a constitutional amendment to guarantee women's rights is long overdue.

   The ERA, which Congress approved in 1972, guarantees equal protection under the law regardless of one's sex. At that time, Congress imposed a 7-year deadline--later extended to 10 years--for the States to act. By the time this artificial deadline expired in 1982, 35 States had approved the Equal Rights Amendment--three short of the 38 States necessary to add it to the Constitution. Since then, two more States have approved the amendment, which leaves us just one State shy of reaching the goal. Congress must act to authorize additional time for the remaining States to consider the amendment.

   Earlier this year, I and the senior Senator from Alaska, Ms. Murkowski, introduced a bipartisan Senate resolution, S.J. Res. 6, to reopen consideration of the ERA. It may come as a shock to many that in a country to which the world looks as being an example of liberty and justice, our Constitution does not guarantee women the same rights and protections as men. That is why this bipartisan resolution is imperative as we urge Congress and the remaining States to finish what we started nearly 50 years ago to ensure equality under the law for all women.

   In the early 20th century, women were disenfranchised and had little or no legal, financial, or social opportunities to pursue. Property ownership, jobs, and economic equality were privileges women did not have. Today, a century later, more women have entered the workforce than ever before. Women are filling leadership roles at unprecedented levels, and we are finally on the verge of ratifying the ERA. This change has boosted our economy, strengthened our families, and brought our society to new heights of innovation, enlightenment, and opportunity. We see that change is not only possible, it is essential to realizing our greatest potential as a nation.

   While ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment is critical to giving women in our country the rights they deserve, it is not, in and of itself, enough. I will continue to fight for the ERA but also for women's economic opportunities and reproductive rights.