ERA backers hope to save 1975 ratification as effort to declare it void moves to the House

Brayden Zenker

BISMARCK – After defeat in the Senate, supporters of North Dakota’s 1975 ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution plan to continue the fight in the House of Representatives.

SCR 4010 declares that state ratification of the ERA 46 years ago was only valid through 1979, the deadline set by Congress. Ratification by 38 states was required, but only 35 states had approved the amendment by that date.

Actress Jean Stapleton, right, and former Congresswoman Bella S. Abzug, chairwoman of the National Commission of the Observance of International Womenís Year, talk to reporters during a press conference, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 1977 in Washington. During the briefing, the two released a national plan by the commission which included support for the Equal Rights Amendment and more than 100 recommendations for remedial action to end discrimination against women.

The Senate vote Feb. 22 was 29-17 for passage of the resolution.

Thomasine Heitkamp, president of ERA NOW, a Facebook group that advocates for the ratification and adoption of the ERA, said they and other advocacy groups plan to lobby House members to reject the resolution.

Lucienne Beard, left, is departing Jan. 31 as executive director of the Alice Paul Institute at historic Paulsdale in Mount Laurel. She is attending its 2020 Equality Gala fundraising event earlier this year to help promote passage of the  Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Also pictured are Nancy Mirfin , center, and Michele Dorris.

Several state legislators have spoken out against the resolution on the ERA NOW Facebook page, including Sen. JoNell Bakke, D-Grand Forks, who said she was furious about the Senate vote. She encouraged constituents to “flood” House members with emails urging a “no” vote on the resolution.

Bakke also suggested writing to Gov. Doug Burgum, asking him to veto the legislation if it passes in the House.

The quest for racial equality and justice in the United States has been long and divisive.   As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18, 2021, 24/7 Tempo has created a list of the most important moments of the civil rights movement. We reviewed source material from the websites of the    Southern Poverty Law Center    and   National Constitution Center,   as well as from media sources to compile this list.    Three amendments   to the Constitution enacted during the Civil War and in the Reconstruction era abolished slavery and provided legal and civil rights for African Americans. At least in theory. In practice, black Americans continued to be subjected to brutal treatment by whites in mostly southern states.    So-called Jim Crow laws passed in the South prevented blacks from voting, attending the same schools as whites, dining in certain restaurants, and limited where they could live. To this day, certain cities in the United States do not provide as many opportunities for blacks to succeed as others.    These are the worst cities for black Americans   .    The first stirrings of the civil rights movement began prior to World War II when African Americans threatened to march on Washington to appeal for equal job rights in 1941. Blacks served in the military with distinction -- such as the Tuskegee airmen -- during World War II despite institutional segregation. Many African Americans questioned why they were fighting a war for freedom abroad while they were denied it at home.    President Harry Truman's executive order ended segregation in the military in 1948. This helped  set in motion the civil rights movement, which started as a grassroots initiative and built to a full-fledged cause in the 1950s, leading to landmark legislation that provided better opportunities for African Americans and produced some of    America's greatest civil rights heroes   .

Rep. Zachary Ista, D-Grand Forks, said he was disappointed when the Senate “inexplicably voted to turn the clock back to 1975 with its passage of SCR 4010.”

During the Senate debate on SCR 4010, Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, said the message of the ERA is “we need to promote equal rights between men and women,” and that repealing ratification “sends the wrong message.”

But Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg – a sponsor of the resolution – said that voting yes does not mean that a legislator doesn’t believe in equal rights.

A woman holds up a sign as members of Congress and representatives of women's groups hold a rally to mark the 40th anniversary of congressional passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) outside the U.S. Capitol March 22, 2012, in Washington, D.C.

Myrdal also said some current ERA advocates have a special agenda. Adoption of the amendment to the U.S. Constitution “means a right to abortion through the ninth month,” Myrdal said. “It’s no longer about women’s rights.”

Myrdal and others also argued that the question of ratification – raised by the recent actions of additional states – is moot because of the passage of time. She said advocates are free to begin the process again, and if another amendment were sent to the states she would be willing to discuss it.

Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, countered that the resolution is a “sharp stick in the eye” of everyone who worked to make laws fair for men and women.

“It is not about abortion, it is not about locker rooms, it is not about bathrooms,” Lee said. “What has stayed the same are the fear-mongering, paranoia of special interest groups and misleading statements about the Equal Rights Amendment.”

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

Be sure to follow Devils Lake Journal on our twitter page, @devilslakenews, and like us on Facebook!