Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the
Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, presided over the first hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment in 36 years and enthusiastically supported ratification of the constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women. See Congressman Cohen’s opening statement in the video clip above.
The hearing took the testimony of witnesses Kathleen M. Sullivan, former dean of the Stanford Law School; Nevada State Senator Pat Spearman; Professor Elizabeth Price Foley of the Florida International University College of Law; and actor and advocate Patricia Arquette.
The subcommittee also heard testimony from Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York
whose H.J.Res.35 would restart the amendment ratification process, and from Representative
Jackie Speier of California whose H.J.Res.38 would remove the arbitrary deadline to ratify that was included in the preamble of the original constitutional amendment in 1972.
As reported in a press release from Cohen’s office, toward the end of his opening statement he said: “A great person, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was asked in an interview what amendment she would most like to see added to the U.S. Constitution. She answered it would be the Equal Rights Amendment. As she explained, the ERA means ‘women are people of equal stature before the law,’ and ‘that principle …is in every constitution written since the Second World War.’ Justice Ginsburg said she would like to see her granddaughters, ‘when they pick up the Constitution, to see that that is a basic principle of our society.’
“I understand there’s a possibility Justice Ginsburg is watching today’s hearing and, just to channel our president: Justice Ginsburg, if you’re listening, get us the ERA.”
At a press conference after the historic hearing, Congressman Cohen told the story of 24-year-
old Tennessee State Representative Harry Burn’s historic 1920 vote for women’s rights. Burn, a Republican, on his mother’s instruction, cast the deciding vote for the 19th Amendment to give women the right to vote. That made Tennessee the 36th state to ratify it and make it part of the Constitution.
Two states—Nevada and Illinois—have recently ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, bringing
the total to 37, just one short of the 38 needed for ratification. The key passage at the heart of the ERA is: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The ERA, if ratified, would provide a strong legal defense against a rollback of the significant advances in women’s rights that have been achieved since the mid–20th century.