Legal Experts Speak at Radcliffe Institute on 50th Anniversary of Senate Passage of Equal Rights Amendment | News

Leading legal experts discussed the decades-long campaign to pass the Equal Rights Amendment during a virtual panel hosted by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study on Tuesday, which marked the 50th anniversary of the passage of the ERA in the United States Senate.

The event, titled “Equal Rights and Wrongs, featured Columbia Law School ’99 professor Jamal K. Greene and Fordham University law professor Julie C. Suk ’97 . Harvard history professor Jane Kamensky moderated the panel, which drew more than 200 attendees.

First introduced by the National Women‘s Party in 1923, the ERA is a proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee equal legal rights to all American citizens, regardless of gender. Although the ERA passed the Senate by an 84-8 vote in 1972, it was not ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures within a seven-year deadline mandated by Congress.

“The ERA seemed unstoppable,” Kamensky said in his introduction, citing a book written by Suk. “Spoiler alert: it wasn’t, unless it might still be.”

Suk responded to critics who say the ERA is redundant because the 14th Amendment provides protections against gender discrimination.

“It may be redundant,” she said. “But there are worse things than redundancy – among them the failure of our executive, legislative and judicial branches to implement the equal rights guarantees already enshrined in the Constitution.”

Greene, a former Crimson sportswriter, said the ERA should be interpreted as listing more rights than the 14th Amendment currently provides.

“There’s a broader interpretative inference one can draw that makes the potential passage of an ERA not only consequential, but I think quite revolutionary,” he said. “Otherwise, what would be the point of passing it?”

Suk said passing the ERA would be in line with existing provisions in other democracies such as France, Germany and Ukraine, whose constitutions guarantee equal rights for women and men.

In an interview after the event, Suk said current debates over ERA boil down to disagreements over how it should be interpreted.

“It is possible to interpret [the ERA] it means you always have to treat men and women the same, but it’s also possible to interpret it to mean that you can recognize the differences to address the disadvantages that currently exist,” Suk said.

“Can you treat people equally while recognizing that they are not exactly the same in their needs and potentials?” Kamensky said in an interview. “I think it’s still a live issue.”

Tuesday’s panel was co-hosted by the Schlesinger Library’s Long 19th Amendment Project, which supports scholarship on American women’s efforts to gain full citizenship rights.

Greene said “ERA is worth fighting for” in his closing remarks, and Suk agreed.

“We need a space where people feel the Constitution can be changed,” Suk said.

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