June 2, 2020

Equal Means Equal Responds to Trump Administration’s Effort to Kill the ERA

By EME Team

Equal Means Equal Responds to Trump Administration’s Effort to kill the ERA

Massachusetts AG Says ‘Time to Stop Debating Whether Women’s Rights Should be in the Constitution’

BOSTON – Equal Means Equal and its co-plaintiffs Monday accused the Trump administration of causing “catastrophic legal injury” by refusing to carry out the will of the people and acknowledging the Equal Rights Amendment became the 28th Amendment to the Constitution when Virginia ratified the measure on January 27th of 2020.

In its response to the government’s motion to dismiss the case, plaintiffs Equal Means Equal, the Yellow Roses and Katherine Weitbrecht alleged by not validating ERA ratification, the lack of action by the Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero will “undermine the integrity of American democracy at its core by depriving the people of its bedrock right to amend their Constitution.”

The lawsuit filed in January in U.S. District Court in Boston argues that congressionally imposed deadlines for states to ratify the ERA are unconstitutional and called on the courts to compel the Archivist of the United States to officially record ERA as the 28th amendment to the Constitution. The complaint also calls on the courts to reject any attempts by states to rescind their prior ratifications of the ERA. It is the first lawsuit regarding the newly ratified ERA to arrive in court, and the only ERA lawsuit brought entirely by women.

The profile and controversy around the court fight intensified when the Department of Justice intervened, publicly citing its opposition to adding the ERA to the Constitution. Despite having no legal role, the DOJ nonetheless advised the Archivist of the United States not to officially record the ERA as duly ratified.

“Defendant has caused cognizable, indeed catastrophic legal injury, to plaintiffs and all who care about equality,” the brief filed Monday in U.S. District Court states.

Joining Pro-ERA organization Equal Means Equal in the lawsuit are then-college sophomore Katherine Weitbrecht, a resident of Norfolk County, Mass., who was mocked and strangled by a man with a history of making derogatory remarks about women for wearing a rape whistle on campus late at night; and the Yellow Roses, a volunteer student organization founded in 2015 in Quincy, Mass., by a group of middle school girls, whose sole mission is to advocate for and raise public awareness about ratification of the ERA.

“There are some who may think that this case, which seeks to elevate women to equal legal status, is not critical given these extraordinary times. On the contrary, adopting the Equal Rights Amendment would send a powerful public message validating every American’s right to equal justice,” said Equal Means Equal President Kamala Lopez, a Los Angeles filmmaker, actress and activist.

“We urge the courts to the validate ERA immediately and stop this embarrassing display against women’s right to equality under law, as it escalates the already lawless persona developing around this administration and its Department of Justice,” Lopez added.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said, “It’s time to stop debating whether women’s rights should be in the Constitution. The vast majority of states agree that women’s equality should be constitutionally protected, and I’m proud to stand with the Yellow Roses and others across the country in the fight to end sex discrimination.”

Equal Means Equal Legal Counsel Wendy Murphy, a Boston-based lawyer, law professor, and Director of the Women’s and Children’s Advocacy Project at New England Law|Boston, explained the court battle centers around the fact that Congress illegally imposed a ratification deadline on the States in 1972, but the Trump administration says it expired in1982, before the necessary 38 states had a chance to ratify the ERA.

“Our brief makes clear the deadline is not valid. We also emphasize that the Archivist issued a public statement in 2012 saying he would publish the ERA if 38 States ratified it, despite the so-called deadline,” Murphy said. “Women worked very hard on the ERA after the Archivist made that promise, and we prevailed this year when Virginia became the 38th state to ratify in January. The Archivist then reneged on his 2012 promise and refused to publish the ERA. That’s why we sued him.”

The plaintiffs and their supporters have insisted from the start that this dispute must be settled in the public, non-partisan arena the courts provide.

“We believe the courts will right this wrong and validate the ERA,” said Equal Means Equal Vice President Natalie White, a New York-based visual artist and activist. “The authoritarian way in which this administration handles our country’s problems are on full display. We are fighting back legally, and we will prevail.”

Lead plaintiff Equal Means Equal has played a prominent role the past decade in the revitalized movement to ratify the ER: from spearheading educational initiatives; initiating grassroots organizing and campaigning; to continuing legislative issue advocacy and now court action. Equal Means Equal has had a leading role in the legislative ratification fights in the final three states needed to complete ERA ratification: Nevada, Illinois and Virginia. Equal Means Equal also carried out an ERA voter education and get-out-the-vote campaign in the Virginia elections last year that helped flip control of the state General Assembly to pro-ERA.

Plaintiff Katherine Weitbrecht added, “I hope the court will validate the era so that women will not have to endure injustices in the courts, and that their suffering will be seen as worthy of equal treatment.”

Equal Means Equal and Murphy also filed the first lawsuit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to protect Title IX from being gutted by the Trump administration in 2018.