Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks during a Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment:
"Thank you Chairman Cohen for convening this critical hearing.
"The first version of the Equal Rights Amendment was proposed nearly one hundred years ago by Alice Paul, who helped lead the campaign to secure women's right to vote, which culminated in passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. She and the other courageous women who led that movement soon recognized that ratification of women’s suffrage was only the start. They knew that if women were to achieve true equality, our nation’s founding document needed to be amended to reflect that core principle.
"Alice Paul's Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in both Houses of Congress in 1923. But ninety-six years later, the United States Constitution still does not explicitly declare that women have equal rights under the law.
"We have, of course, made important strides. In large part, thanks to a brilliant legal strategy pioneered by now-Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the courts have recognized that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits many forms of outright discrimination. But in troubling ways, women's rights have begun to slide backwards in recent years.
"This Administration continues to threaten women's health and safety on an almost daily basis—whether it is by trying to roll back laws that prohibit health insurers from charging more to women, just for being female, or by allowing women’s healthcare choices to be dictated by their employers’ religious beliefs.
"Women still earn only eighty cents for every dollar that men earn—with women of color earning even less—and they have uneven protections against other forms of discrimination and against harassment in the workplace.
"With these disturbing facts in mind, it is clear that an Equal Rights Amendment is more important than ever. Members of Congress regularly debated the Equal Rights Amendment from the 1920s through the 1970s, but the issue has largely remained dormant in recent years, making this hearing long overdue.
"In 1971 and 1972, the House and Senate passed the ERA by overwhelming margins. It contained these simple words: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." In the years that quickly followed, dozens of states ratified the ERA through their legislatures. By the end of the 1970s, the ERA was just a few states short of full ratification, but then progress on the Amendment slowed.
"Thankfully—due in large part to the hard work of several of the witnesses here today—the momentum has picked back up. First, Senator Spearman led the effort to ratify the ERA in Nevada’s state legislature. Illinois followed suit last year. Meanwhile, women have been elected to office in unprecedented numbers—including in this Congress. Now, for the first time ever, more than a hundred women are serving in the United States House of Representatives. One hundred and six, in fact. Some of the women who are part of this inspiring wave are on this Subcommittee and they are helping to lend their voices to the critical effort to ratify the ERA.
"In addition, H.J. Res. 38, introduced in this Congress by Congresswoman Jackie Speier with 185 co-sponsors, would ensure that the ERA can become law if and when a sufficient number of states ratify it.Although there is some debate about the mechanism for determining when a sufficient number of states have ratified the ERA, I hope there is no debate about the need for enshrining in the Constitution a clear and firm statement guaranteeing women equal rights under the law.
"We are on the verge of a breakthrough for equality in this country, despite all the obstacles in our current political and social climate. Adopting the ERA would bring our country closer to truly fulfilling our values of inclusion and equal opportunity for all people.
"I thank the witnesses for their participation—including my colleagues, the Gentlewoman from California, Ms. Speier, and the Gentlewoman from New York, Ms. Maloney, who have both been champions for the ERA. I look forward to their testimony, and the testimony of all our distinguished witnesses.
"I yield back the balance of my time."