Thursday, March 30, 2017

File This Under "Things I Didn't Know"

So I recently stumbled across a fascinating article about a guy named Gregory Watson. And Mr. Watson way back in the day (1982) he write a paper about a Constitutional Amendment that had been proposed way back in 1789 by none other than James Madison itself. The nutshell: Congress can vote to give itself a raise, but that raise can't go into effect until after the next election, giving the voters a chance to weigh in.

Seems reasonable, right? (And if it seems familiar- there's a reason for that.) But Mr. Watson wrote a paper about it, turned it in, got a C, appealed the grade to his Professor, who left it as a C and then decided that he was going to roll up his sleeves and get that Amendment Ratified. And knock my ass down with a feather- that's exactly what he did.

You see, the Amendment didn't have a deadline. Nine states had said, "yes this seems like a good idea" back when it was first proposed, which left 29 states to get. 10 years after he wrote that paper and got a C, the 27th Amendment was ratified over two centuries after it had been proposed.

So how does this figure into the Equal Rights Amendment?

(Brief refresher: the ERA says this:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Got it? Good.)

File this under "Things I Didn't Know" but the ERA was first written by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman and introduced to Congress for the first time 1923. It didn't break out of Congress until 1972. They set a deadline of March of 1979 to complete ratification and came up three states short. They extended the deadline to 1982, but it couldn't get over the hump.

You'd think it'd be done and dusted at that point, right? But you'd be wrong. Nevada just ratified the ERA... And this is where things get interesting...  since 1992 (when the Madison Amendment passed after 200 years) pro-ERA groups have been pursuing a three state strategy to get the Amendment over the finish line to 38 states. (Again: File this under "Things I Didn't Know" because this probably isn't news to anyone who's been interested in the ERA.)

Here's where it gets cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.... Article Five of the Constitution says nothing about deadlines. Congress has set deadlines on some Amendments and obviously, as the 27th Amendment proves, not on others. A new wrinkle for the ERA: five states rescinded their ratification of the Amendment. But the Constitution is also silent on whether or not Governors have any authority/say in the ratification process. It's also not clear about a state's authority to rescind a ratification of a proposed but not yet ratified adopted amendment.

So if the ERA can get passed by three more states...  it might be 28th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Or it might not. I don't know, but this...  three state strategy seems kind of legit to me. I'm not seeing anything that says it's not a viable strategy, put it that way.

Keep half an ear to the ground about this...  things like this moving through the states bubble up from time to time but then get subsumed back underground in the shouting matches of our national discourse. I'm sure there's a catch somewhere in this whole strategy. I'm sure there will be roadblocks and some law passed down from Congress about deadlines and how it's not actually valid. I'm sure there will be court cases upon court cases and so on and so forth. But even if this just ends up being symbolic, it'd be a pretty big fucking symbol if the ERA can get those last three states to 38.

Symbols are important.

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