A federal court on Friday shot down Virginia’s attempt to force the National Archives to add the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ruling that the ratification deadline passed decades ago.
Judge Rudolph Contreras, an Obama appointee to the district court in Washington, D.C., said the last deadline Congress set was 1982. Virginia, which says it was the key 38th state to ratify, had argued that the deadline wasn’t binding, but the judge shot down that argument.
Plaintiffs’ ratifications came too late to count.
For good measure, he said, Virginia and fellow states didn’t have standing to sue, either.
The ruling is a serious blow to backers of the ERA, who had hoped to thread a legal needle in forcing the amendment into the Constitution.
The amendment, proposed by Congress in 1972, read: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
When Congress sent it to the states it said the requisite three-fourths — in this case 38 states — had to ratify it by 1979. When that deadline approached, Congress tacked another three years onto the deadline, but the amendment was still three states shy of the target. And by then, a half-dozen states had revoked their ratifications.
In the last several years a new push to ratify the amendment began, with backers arguing Congress’s deadline was always illegal. Those backers also argued that states weren’t allowed to revoke a ratification.
With that belief, Nevada, Illinois and Virginia — none of which had ratified the ERA before — did so.
Virginia was the final state, acting last year, immediately after Democrats took complete control of the legislature for the first time in more than two decades.
After Virginia’s action, the states sued the National Archivist, who keeps the records of the Constitution, demanding that he publish the ERA as the 28th Amendment.
But Judge Contreras said in his opinion Friday that the 1982 deadline is legal.
“There is no doubt that Congress intended them to be binding. And few have questioned that they are,” he ruled.
Because of that, he said he never had to confront the question of states that revoked their ratifications.