The Feminist Magna Carta

In 1920, a constitutional amendment gave women the right to vote. In 1921, Wisconsin became the first state to enact an equal rights law for women in all respects, not just voting. In 1922, advocates wanted that nationally.

As a 1922 New York Times Magazine article described:

They find they can’t have absolute equality with men unless they surrender prerogatives and perquisites which have been immemorially theirs; and they have manifested, for the most part, no greater eagerness to escape the discriminations of which they have been the victims than reluctance to forego those discriminations of which they have been the beneficiaries; the perquisites of alimony, for instance, and of protective industrial legislation.

The federal Equal Rights Amendment passed both the U.S. House and Senate in the early 1970s, but failed to achieve the required ratifications by three-quarters of state legislatures.

A seven-year time limit for these ratifications was included with the amendment. Progressive advocates argue that this was unconstitutional and thus invalid, meaning Virginia’s 2020 ratification as the 38th such state should count as reaching the required three-quarters of state legislatures, even if it occurred decades later.

In 2021, this legal claim brought by Democrats was rejected by federal judge Rudy Contreras, even though he was originally appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama.

In 2022, the Office of Legal Counsel under Democratic President Joe Biden issued an opinion recognizing the original seven-year deadline as valid, though it also claimed that Congress could retroactively overturn it. (Which the current Congress has not done, despite Democrats controlling both the House and Senate.)

Interestingly, even though Wisconsin was the first state to enact an equal rights law, it’s not listed in the Brennan Center’s comprehensive list of state-level equal rights amendment equivalents, because it was never adopted as part of the state constitution.

While the 22 states with such constitutional provisions are mostly blue states, as you might expect, a few perhaps-surprising swing states or red states include Alaska, Florida, Iowa, Montana, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.

The Feminist Magna Charta [sic]

Published: Sunday, December 10, 1922

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