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That 70s Show Is More Like The Twilight Zone
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageRichmond – For people of a certain age, the debate over ratification of the so-called Equal Rights Amendment, which aims to ban sex discrimination, remains at least somewhat vivid. The campaign by both the pro and anti forces was so searing that it’s difficult to imagine how anyone can be unaware of the arguments, procedural machinations and the history of it all.

We are all products of our own generations. Still, one would expect politicians, especially ones in charge of the 12th largest state who make significantly important decisions every year, would know at least something about a proposal to amend the United States Constitution — except that they don’t.

Congress passed it out to the states in the 1970s with 10 years to decide. It failed, including a remarkable episode in the Virginia Senate where it fell one vote short when a couple of senators suddenly had "emergencies” and left the chamber just as the resolution was brought to the floor. Five states even reversed their ratification votes. The U.S. Supreme Court added the nail in the coffin by refusing to hear an appeal of a lower court that upheld Iowa’s rescission vote.

Then, out of nowhere, about eight years ago, resolutions reintroducing it began popping up in legislatures around the country. It sounded like a put on or an episode of That ‘70s Show played out in person. But it was more like the Twilight Zone when a couple of states approved it. In Virginia, proponents have been particularly vociferous over the years, disrupting General Assembly committee meetings, demonstrating and flooding the halls confronting anyone — legislator and bystander alike — with their point of view.

Although it has escaped the Senate on occasion it has died in the House Privileges and Elections Committee where it has been properly ruled out of order. However, proponents have pressured certain lawmakers by successfully targeting county boards of supervisors in their districts to pass supporting resolutions.

Now, there are easily enough senators publicly on record to pass it. There are also hints that the Republican leadership will reroute the resolution from the Rules Committee, where it has died, to the Privileges and Elections Committee, where it has majority support.

What appears to have escaped the consideration of these senators is that the resolution expired about 36 years ago. If any more proof is required, it’s that members of Congress have tried to pass, unsuccessfully, an extension. Why is that necessary if it isn’t dead?

What’s most disturbing is that otherwise (mostly) responsible people are willing to manufacture a true constitutional crisis. This is not an academic exercise. There is nothing more consequential and nothing more worthy of serious, composed thought than amending the United States Constitution.

The so-called ERA would be the first amendment that does not specifically correct an issue — the right to vote, the definition of citizenship, even the election of the vice president all came via amendments. None are nebulous that also grant Congress enforcement power. Might that mean that any law Congress passes even remotely dealing with sex discrimination would be automatically constitutional?

It certainly would mean unelected judges would fill in every blank and then some as every grievance, real and imagined, is litigated. Literally, thousands of cases would be brought each year with as many different results. It would be legal bedlam.

Proponents say they need one more state, which could come via Virginia as early as February. But that leaves the question of the five states that rescinded their votes and the unprecedented question of who would determine what is or is not in our constitution? Do Virginia’s part time lawmakers want to add to the nation’s strife with this unparalleled disorder?


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