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Noah Feldman

The Equal Rights Amendment Could Still Do Some Good

Yes, times have changed, but ratifying the ERA could further shift constitutional law to help women.

It might still make a difference.

It might still make a difference.

Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Since Virginia voted to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in January, there’s been lots of speculative talk about the future of the long-stalled constitutional amendment. The House voted Thursday to remove the deadline for ratification (which came and went decades ago), and the technical questions about that deadline are intriguing — the deadline itself has elicited opinions from, among others, the Office of Legal Counsel and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But more important is an underlying question: Would it make any real-world legal difference if the ERA were enacted today? Or would the consequences be symbolic at most?

The answer turns out to be more complicated than you might think. When the ERA was sent by Congress to the states for ratification in 1972, its passage would certainly have effected immediate change in constitutional doctrine. But in the years since, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to provide a set of protections against sex-based discrimination that come close to what ERA supporters hoped the amendment would achieve.