State lawmakers dust off decades-old ERA debate

    A group of Georgia state lawmakers says it’s time to approve a 1972 U.S. constitutional amendment that aims to bar discrimination on the basis of sex.

    “It’s just amazing in my mind … that here we are in 2020 and we have to debate over this issue,” said state Rep. Billy Mitchell, a Stone Mountain Democrat and author of House Resolution 16. That resolution would give Georgia’s assent to the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Congress approved the ERA in 1972, but it has yet to get the OK from three-quarters of the states.

    Georgia is one of several states revisiting the ERA in the last few years. Virginia’s Democrat-controlled state Legislature is expected to approve it this year.

    But the ERA faces criticism from abortion opponents who fear that it would give some constitutional standing to abortion rights.

    Joining Mitchell on Monday morning at the Georgia Capitol, Nevada state Sen. Pat Spearman dismissed that argument. Nevada approved the ERA in 2017.

    “The sky didn’t fall, abortions didn’t increase” after Nevada passed the resolution, said the North Las Vegas Democrat.

    ERA-era campaign items display in the Georgia Capitol museum show the amendment had some support back in the 1970s, but not enough to get legislative passage. Maggie Lee/Georgia Recorder

    However, the states have missed their deadline to pass the amendment by 38 years, according to a new opinion from the U.S. Department of Justice. It says that because three-fourths of states did not ratify the ERA by 1982, the proposed amendment is no longer pending.

    “Accordingly, even if one or more state legislatures were to ratify the proposed amendment, it would not become part of the Constitution,” the Jan. 6 opinion reads in part.

    Congress needs to re-open the timeline for ratification in order for the ERA to be written into the U.S. Constitution, according to the opinion.

    Virginia would be the 38th state to ratify the ERA. Five states have withdrawn or repealed their ratifications. States that never ratified it are primarily in the Deep South.

    Mitchell filed his ERA resolution last year. State senators also filed Senate Resolution 66 on their side of the Capitol. Neither got as far as a committee hearing. Mitchell said that last year the House deferred to the Senate, since the resolution on that side was carried by state Sen. Renee Unterman, an influential Republican from Buford. This year, Mitchell said, he’s hoping his House colleagues will pass it.

    Maggie Lee
    Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008. Her written work and data journalism has appeared in online and print outlets including The (Macon) Telegraph, Creative Loafing and SaportaReport.com.