Politics & Policy

Posturing About the Equal Rights Amendment

Activists calling for Virginia’s adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment gather outside the Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond, January 8, 2020. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)
The amendment is dead, but the moral preening underpinning it is very much alive.

The House passed H.J.Res.79 last Thursday, a resolution nixing the ratification deadline for the so-called Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA would afford “equal rights under the law” to all American citizens without regard to sex. This is effectively a back-door attempt to codify the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe and to obscure the legitimacy of various sex-specific institutions, from gendered restrooms to the male-only draft. Its 1979 ratification deadline — dubiously extended to 1982 by an act of Congress — has long since passed. Thus, what the resolution achieves beyond providing its proponents a chance for self-congratulation is unclear.

Some of the resolution’s proponents at least attempted a rational justification. After the resolution passed, one senior Democratic aide told The Hill that its purpose was “to remove any legal ambiguities surrounding the deadline” of the ERA. If the aide meant to claim that lifting the deadline would retroactively construct the 38-state coalition necessary to ratify the amendment, this does not pass basic constitutional scrutiny. As John McCormack has shown in some detail, the ERA’s earlier ratification deadlines were binding. Even noted ERA exponent Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — whose “feminist legacy” is now “uncertain” because she dared to state legal reality plainly — told amendment supporters that they would be wise to “start over,” given the passage of the deadline and the defections that occurred at the state level before 1979.

The House, by removing the deadline for ratification, merely opens the door for future statewide ratification efforts, which does nothing to revive the since-expired state approvals. To remove the deadline that was a part of the text voted on by legislatures is effectively to create a new constitutional amendment, one that state legislatures have not voted on, and certainly have not voted for.

Since H.J.Res.79 did nothing to “remove” whatever “ambiguities” remain about ratification deadlines long since passed, the resolution essentially provided a platform for the sort of sanctimonious performance art that has become a staple of Congress in the age of C-SPAN.

Representative Ayanna Pressley (D., Mass.) addressed the House in anticipation of the resolution vote to voice her “strong, unapologetic, righteous” support for it. She did not say how the resolution would obviate the legal incoherence of reviving a dead ratification process with a simple act of Congress, which was its ostensible aim. Instead, she spoke in fevered tones about the alleged plight of women in the United States.

“We women are still in so many ways not fully free, still shackled,” the duly elected, sitting representative said. “Women are strong, hardworking, bright, and resilient. We are the backbones of our families, our communities, and our democracy.”

The suggestion that all women are “strong, hardworking, bright and resilient,” as well as the “backbones” of their families and communities, is puzzling. The progressive assumption that there are no inherent personality differences between men and women, would, if true, make it impossible for one sex to be categorically “hardworking” or disproportionately “resilient.” Questioning that assumption in corporate America can get you fired. Likewise, Americans are instructed to take as an article of faith that the differences between men and women are so inconsequential that a man can become a woman just by saying so. If the entire male-female binary is a construct of the patriarchy, as the feminist origin myth goes, how can women be categorically “strong, hardworking, bright, and resilient” when “women” do not even exist as a discrete category?

Perhaps recognizing that she was implicitly sanctioning the gender binary, Pressley proceeded to pay verbal obeisance to “intersectionality” and the manifold “identities” of American women: “We do not live in checked boxes; we live in an intersectionality of lived experiences and identities. Our issues are everyone’s issues because our destinies are all tied.”

What “intersectionality” as modified by “lived experience and identities” means, or what “our” issues are, remains unclear. Pressley says that women “do not live in checked boxes,” which must mean that the categories of “male” and “female” do not adequately capture the breadth of gendered experience. If that is the case, why pursue an Equal Rights Amendment at all, and why say “we” when there is no defined group to which the speaker belongs?

Also speaking in the majestic plural, the bill’s sponsor, Representative Jackie Speier (D., Calif), claimed that “women want to be equal and we want it in the Constitution. I am equal on this House floor with all of my male colleagues, but when I walk out, I have fewer rights and protections than them . . .”

It would be helpful if Representative Speier would name one right afforded to men under the Constitution that she, or Ayanna Pressley, as women — whatever a woman is — are denied.

In the absence of such an example, one must presume that her remarks, indeed like the rest of the proceedings, were mere posturing. Perhaps that’s the point.

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

The Last Trusted Prosecutor in Washington

John Durham may be the most consequential and least known figure in Washington right now. In May, U.S. attorney general William Barr selected Durham, a longtime prosecutor with a résumé so sterling it nearly glows, to investigate the origins of the special counsel’s probe into Russian interference in the ... Read More
Law & the Courts

The Last Trusted Prosecutor in Washington

John Durham may be the most consequential and least known figure in Washington right now. In May, U.S. attorney general William Barr selected Durham, a longtime prosecutor with a résumé so sterling it nearly glows, to investigate the origins of the special counsel’s probe into Russian interference in the ... Read More
World

WHO Failed

Since its inception 72 years ago almost to the day, the World Health Organization (WHO)  has been credited with the eradication of smallpox and the near eradication of other devastating illnesses, including leprosy and river blindness. This record of success makes the current corruption of the organization ... Read More
World

WHO Failed

Since its inception 72 years ago almost to the day, the World Health Organization (WHO)  has been credited with the eradication of smallpox and the near eradication of other devastating illnesses, including leprosy and river blindness. This record of success makes the current corruption of the organization ... Read More

The Eeyore Syndrome

In A. A. Milne's classic Winne-the-Pooh children’s tales, Eeyore, the old gray donkey, is perennially pessimistic and gloomy. He always expects the worst to happen. Milne understood that Eeyore’s outbursts of depression could at first be salutatory but then become monotonous. The outlook of the pessimist ... Read More

The Eeyore Syndrome

In A. A. Milne's classic Winne-the-Pooh children’s tales, Eeyore, the old gray donkey, is perennially pessimistic and gloomy. He always expects the worst to happen. Milne understood that Eeyore’s outbursts of depression could at first be salutatory but then become monotonous. The outlook of the pessimist ... Read More
World

How to Make China Pay

One of the big questions facing the international community today is how to hold China legally and politically accountable for all its dishonesty and harm to people around the world. According to reports, U.S. intelligence agencies have confirmed to the White House that China has deliberately understated the ... Read More
World

How to Make China Pay

One of the big questions facing the international community today is how to hold China legally and politically accountable for all its dishonesty and harm to people around the world. According to reports, U.S. intelligence agencies have confirmed to the White House that China has deliberately understated the ... Read More

The Trail Leading Back to the Wuhan Labs

It is understandable that many would be wary of the notion that the origin of the coronavirus could be discovered by some documentary filmmaker who used to live in China. Matthew Tye, who creates YouTube videos, contends he has identified the source of the coronavirus — and a great deal of the information that ... Read More

The Trail Leading Back to the Wuhan Labs

It is understandable that many would be wary of the notion that the origin of the coronavirus could be discovered by some documentary filmmaker who used to live in China. Matthew Tye, who creates YouTube videos, contends he has identified the source of the coronavirus — and a great deal of the information that ... Read More
Health Care

The Experts Lied to Us about Masks

When the stakes are highest, the truth counts the most. Or maybe when things get really serious, that’s when the people really can’t be trusted with the truth. It’s pretty clear which of these two ideas is the one that has been guiding elite medical, political, and journalistic institutions, isn’t it? ... Read More
Health Care

The Experts Lied to Us about Masks

When the stakes are highest, the truth counts the most. Or maybe when things get really serious, that’s when the people really can’t be trusted with the truth. It’s pretty clear which of these two ideas is the one that has been guiding elite medical, political, and journalistic institutions, isn’t it? ... Read More