Lawmakers in both houses of the Virginia legislature have approved resolutions endorsing the Equal Rights Amendment, a measure proposed by Congress in 1972. An Associated Press story, in line with proponents’ characterization, describes the actions in Richmond as a “ratification,” as “final,” and as making Virginia “the critical 38th state.” And today three state attorneys general (Virginia, Illinois, Nevada) sued the Archivist of the U.S. in an attempt to force recognition of the amendment as validly ratified. Has it been?
The Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice has issued an opinion concluding that because the requisite number of states did not ratify the Equal Rights Amendment before Congress’s previously imposed deadline, it cannot be adopted now without starting the amendment process over. The ruling binds executive branch agencies including the National Archives, which per AP “said it would abide by that opinion ‘unless otherwise directed by a final court order.’”
Proponents say the time limit written into the original ERA shouldn’t count because it appeared in the measure’s preamble rather than its main text, and argue that some combination of Congress and the courts are free if they like to count as valid all extensions (whether assented to by a supermajority or by a bare majority), revival measures, and ratification votes taking place at later times, while not counting as valid five states’ rescissions of earlier approval. The case of the 27th Amendment, which was proposed with no time limit and did not reach the requisite number of states until more than two centuries later, suggests that contemporaneous “meeting of the minds” is not so intrinsic a feature of the amendment process as many legal scholars once assumed; on the other hand, a 1921 Supreme Court case, Dillon v. Gloss, appears to confirm that Congress did not act unconstitutionally when it chose to prescribe a time limit for the Eighteenth Amendment, as it has done for many amendments in modern times.