For the first time in about a decade, the Louisiana Legislature is set to consider ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. If successful, Louisiana would be the last state needed to adopt the amendment - ensuring the equal rights of men and women - to the U.S. Constitution.
The effort is being led by Senator JP Morrell (D-New Orleans), who sees it as a chance to send a message to the rest of the country.
“This really could be an opportunity to tell the United States we’re not the same Louisiana we’ve been when it comes to issues like this,” said Senator Morrell.
While the Louisiana Legislature is debating ratifying the amendment, the immediate impact would be on the national level. The Louisiana Constitution already has an equal protection clause that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
The Equal Rights Amendment was passed by Congress in the 1970s, but 38 states have to ratify the amendment in order to add this line to the U.S. Constitution: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.”
“The next state to ratify it would be the 38th state," explained Morrell.
He says the fact that Louisiana could be that final state means the effort could draw support and opposition from groups around the country.
"This has become a battleground like many states have been throughout the history of the ERA for a national conversation."
35 states ratified the ERA by 1982, the deadline set by Congress. Until recently, the issue was dormant. Nevada approved the amendment in 2017, marking the first time in 40 years a state endorsed the ERA. Illinois became the 37th state to sign off on the amendment last year.
Critics say because the deadline has passed, adding the ERA to the U.S. Constitution now would be invalid.
Morrell isn’t concerned. He points out Congress has already extended the deadline and could do so again.
The Louisiana Legislature has debated the amendment multiple times, but the effort never got past committee. Morrell says a lot has changed in the last ten years, both politically and culturally.
"There is a forced acknowledgement that women make up more than 50% of the electorate. And as such, you can’t simply ignore this issue and hope that it goes away."
The resolution would need support from a majority of the Legislature to pass.