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A Forgotten ERA: West Virginia Senate approves resolution to rescind Equal Rights Amendment ratification

State Sen. Hannah Geffert opposed Friday’s vote by the Senate to rescind the state’s 1972 ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. (Photo courtesy of WV Legislative Photography)

CHARLESTON — Nearly 50 years after West Virginia ratified a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution affirming equal rights for women, the state Senate approved a resolution to rescind the state’s ratification.

The Senate adopted Senate Concurrent Resolution 44 by voice vote Friday, with several Democratic senators vocally voting no. State Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, was lead sponsor on the resolution.

SCR 44, clarifying the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), would rescind the state’s ratification of the constitutional amendment. West Virginia lawmakers ratified the ERA on April 22, 1972. SCR states that West Virginia’s ratification was only valid until March 22, 1979.

“This resolution just clarifies that the resolution that was passed by the Legislature is no longer valid and it never did get the 38 required states that it needed in order for it to become valid,” said Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson.

Congress approved House Joint Resolution No. 208 creating the ERA on March 22, 1972. The proposed constitutional amendment would have stated that “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 this 2020 photo, State Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, speaks with fellow senator Mike Romano, D-Harrison, during the opening day of the state legislative session in Charleston. The Republican-led West Virginia Senate voted Friday to rescind the state’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, declaring that it expired in 1979. In a statement later, Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin of Greenbrier County said “it’s a sad commentary that in America in 2022 equal rights are still being debated. (AP Photo)

“I wonder what they are afraid of,” said Sen. Hannah Geffert, D-Berkeley, who opposed SCR 44. “Why should you be afraid that your daughters, your mothers, your sisters should have equal rights in this country? Isn’t it sad that we have to have an amendment to affirm that.”

Constitutional amendments require three-fourths approval, or 38 states, in order to be added to the U.S. Constitution. The last amendment to be approved by the states was the 27th Amendment, changing when increases or decreases to congressional salaries can take effect. The amendment was first proposed in 1789, but it wasn’t ratified until 1992.

Congress placed a seven-year deadline on ratification of 1979. Only 35 states ratified the ERA between 1972 and 1979. Three states ratified the ERA in the last five years, with neighboring Virginia ratifying in 2020. The Alice Paul Institute, named for women’s suffrage movement leader Alice Paul, is advocating for resolutions in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives that would lift the seven-year deadline for the ERA.

If the House of Delegates approves of SCR 44, West Virginia would join six other states, including Nebraska, Tennessee, Idaho, Kentucky and South Dakota, that have rescinded their ERA ratifications. North Dakota was the most recent state to rescind its ratification last year. But the Alice Paul Institute questions whether the U.S. Constitution allows states to rescind ratification.

“Article V of the Constitution speaks only to the states’ power to ratify an amendment but not to the power to rescind a ratification,” according to an article on the Alice Paul Institute’s website. “All precedents concerning state rescissions of ratifications indicate that such actions are not valid and that the constitutional amendment process as described in Article V allows only for ratification.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsansentinel.com.

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