The Equal Rights Amendment: A Century in the Making

From the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923, to the decade-long battle over ratification in the 1970s, to renewed interest in the amendment today, the long fight to enshrine gender equality in the Constitution has taken on new significance.

After Congress proposed the ERA in 1972 with strong bipartisan support, the measure went to the states for ratification. Strong early momentum was followed by a wave of resistance and the amendment stalled, just three states short of the 38 needed to prevail. Complicating matters, legislatures in five states voted to rescind their support. In the years since, the fight for gender equality has made significant headway – in the courts, in the legislatures, and in the world of organizing and action. And yet, a resurgence in activism – from the Women’s Marches, to the rise of the #MeToo movement, to record numbers of women running for office – serves as a powerful reminder of pervasive disparities and unequal representation that exist today.

In a discussion organized by the Brennan Center for Justice, experts and activists examined the renewed push for ratification of the ERA, which raises new questions of strategy and substance. What lessons can we learn from the initial campaign? What is the state of gender equality under the law today? What is the experience other countries, and of those states, that have adopted similar protections? How could a renewed push to ratify the ERA – at a time of surging women’s activism and civic engagement – advance the cause of equality today?

Symposium Foreword
The Equal Rights Amendment: A Century in the Making
Melissa Murray

The Equal Rights Amendment–A Plumber’s Perspective
Steven Anderson

The Benefits of Equity in the Constitutional Quest for Equality
Wilfred Codrington

The ERA, the Military, and the Making of Constitutional Meaning
Cary Franklin

How the Most Important U.S. Civil Rights Law Came to Include Women
Caroline Fredrickson

Some Questions About #MeToo And Judicial Decision Making
Helen Hershkoff

The Equal Rights Amendment’s Revival: Questions for Congress, the Courts and the American People
John Kowal

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Development of Gender Equality Jurisprudence under the Fourteenth Amendment
Lenora Lapidus

Time for the Equal Rights Amendment
Jessica Neuwirth

Transgenerational And Transnational: Giving New Meaning to the ERA
Julie C. Suk

The ERA Campaign and Menstrual Equity
Jennifer Weiss-Wolf

Symposium Addendum
Tribute to Lenora Lapidus


Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court Filings for the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project

The ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project (WRP) generously shared documents filed in the Supreme Court by Ruth Bader Ginsburg during her tenure as director from 1972–1980. The documents include filings from cases on which Ginsburg served as counsel as well as amicus briefs.

Reed v. Reed (1971)

The Court invalidated an Idaho law requiring that, when a father and mother of a deceased child both sought appointment as administrator of the estate, the father had to be selected over the mother. Reed was the first case in which the Supreme Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

Appellant Brief
Appellant Reply Brief
Jurisdictional Statement

Frontiero v. Richardson (1973)

The Court struck down a federal statute that automatically granted male members of the military housing and benefits for their wives, but required female members to prove their husbands’ actual dependency to qualify.

Amicus Brief
Amicus Reply Brief
Jurisdictional Statement

Pittsburgh Press Co. v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations (1973)

The Court upheld a Pittsburgh ordinance forbidding sex-designated classified advertising for job opportunities against a First Amendment challenge.

Amicus Brief

Corning Glass Works v. Brennan (1974)

The Court held that a factory violated the Equal Pay Act by paying male nightshift workers higher wages than female dayshift workers. 

Amicus Brief

Geduldig v. Aiello (1974)

The Court declined to hold that denying insurance benefits for work loss resulting from pregnancy violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court held that the California state program did not discriminate based on sex, but on the basis of categories of compensable disabilities.

Amicus Brief

Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld (1975)

Ginsburg successfully argued that Social Security regulations providing survivors’ benefits only for mothers were sex-discriminatory regulations in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Appellee Brief

General Electric Company v. Gilbert (1976)

The Court held that employers could legally exclude conditions related to pregnancy from employee benefit plans. Congress responded by passing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.

Amicus Brief

City of Los Angeles Department of Water & Power v. Manhart (1978)

The Court invalidated the City of Los Angeles’ policy of requiring female workers to make larger pension contributions than their male colleagues. The city justified its practice based on the longer expected lifespan of female workers, but the Court held that the policy constituted gender-based discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act.

Amicus Brief

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978)

A landmark affirmative action decision, the Court upheld the use of race as a factor in college admission decisions. The ACLU’s brief argued that the Fourteenth Amendment permits race-based classification to redress disparate treatment of minorities.

Amicus Brief

Duren v. Missouri (1979)

The Court found that a Missouri law permitting women to exempt themselves from jury duty violated the fair cross-section requirement of the Sixth Amendment.

Petitioner Reply Brief

Califano v. Westcott (1979)

The Court held a federal law providing welfare benefits to families with an unemployed father, but none to those with an unemployed mother, to be unconstitutional sex discrimination.

Amicus Brief

Wengler v. Druggists Mutual Insurance Company (1980)

The Court held that a provision of a Missouri workers’ compensation law that required widowers to prove dependence on their wives’ earnings to claim survivor benefits, but allowed widows to claim benefits without proving dependence, violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

Amicus Brief