Document 6: "Legislative Situation on the Equal Rights Amendment as of November 1, 1944," Folder: Individual Liberties/Equal Rights, Box 45, League of Women Voters of Iowa papers, Iowa Women’s Archives, University of Iowa.

Introduction

       This update on the status of the Equal Rights Amendment(ERA) gave a brief outline of the amendment’s legislative history and set up the context of the amendment as it stood in November of 1944. The update cited the basic issues of the amendment: job discrimination, states’ rights, and protective legislation. There was also a detailed look at the implications of the ERA at the state level, including its effects on family, labor, civic, and criminal legislation.

National League of Women Voters
726 Jackson Place                                                          November, 1944
Washington 6, D.C.                                                                        Price: 5¢

Legislative Situation on the Equal Rights Amendment
as of November 1, 1944

_______________________________________________

The so-called Equal Rights Amendment is again up for consideration by Congress. The League of Women Voters is opposed to this Amendment. Other organizations announced as opposed include the American Association of University Women, National Board of the YWCA, National Council of Jewish Women, National Council of Catholic Women, National Women’s Trade Union League, National Consumers League, AF of L, CIO, National Catholic Welfare Conference, Girls’ Friendly Society, National Service Star Legion.

History

The Equal Rights Amendment has been proposed in Congress repeatedly over the past twenty years. It is sponsored by the National Woman’s Party.

The League of Women Voters opposes the Amendment as 1) destructive to laws already in force which help establish real equality; 2) misleading, because most existing discriminations are due to custom and tradition which are beyond the reach of law. Many members of Congress and state legislatures are not familiar with the facts on this issue.

In the 78th Congress

Two versions of the Amendment are pending in the present (78th) Congress. The House version is the traditional form. The House Judiciary Committee defeated it last year, but efforts are being made to petition it out for action. It reads:

“Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.

“Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee reported favorably a revision phrased to permit some variation among states and allow a waiting period before it takes effect. Senator Gillette, one of the sponsors of the Amendment, called it up for action early in September, but withdrew on the request of Senators absent from Washington in the pre-election period. The Senate version reads:

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

“Congress and the several States shall have power,within their respective jurisdictions, to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

“The Amendment shall take effect five years after the date of ratification.”

Party leaders are hoping to avoid controversial legislation in the post-election period. It is therefore possible that no action will be taken in this Congress which expires January 3.

Campaign Promises

The Woman’s Party was successful in getting support planks into both major party platforms. They read as follows:

Republican:

“We favor submission by Congress to the States of an Amendment to the Constitution providing for equal rights for men and women. We favor job opportunities in the postwar world open to men and women alike without discrimination in rate of pay because of sex.”

Democratic:

“We favor legislation assuring equal pay for equal work regardless of sex. We recommend to Congress the submission of a constitutional amendment on equal rights for women.”

Note that in both platforms the Equal Rights Amendment is linked to a demand for “equal pay for equal work.” The implication that equal pay depends upon the Amendment is completely unfounded. Equal pay provisions have already been enacted into law in five states and apply also in the Federal Civil Service.

In the 79th Congress

The Amendment is scheduled for immediate re-introduction when the new Congress organizes in January. Members of Congress will then be urged to stand behind their platform commitments. If Congress can be persuaded to approve the Amendment fast enough, the Amendment can be sent immediately to the states, 3/4 of whom must ratify before the Amendment becomes effective. 45 legislatures meet early in 1945. A number of state legislators have already been approached by the Woman’s Party or by organizations supporting their position. Immediate action by those opposed to the Amendment is essential to prevent rush-through tactics.

Basic Issues

1. In many jobs employers still prefer men, even though women have proved their capacity to do equally good or better work. This is especially true of the higher executive and professional positions for which competition is keen regardless of sex. In spite of the War Manpower Commission’s directives urging that women replace men, relatively few women have been advanced to positions of competitive importance even during the war shortage period. The prejudice against employment of women is rooted in tradition. Tradition cannot be repealed by law. It can be changed by demonstration, and women pioneering in new fields are constantly doing this.

2. States Rights:

The League of Women Voters has opposed federal action on issues where public opinion in the states makes enforcement unlikely.The Prohibition Amendment illustrates the danger of outrunning local support. The Equal Rights Amendment would affect only state laws; there is no federal legislation that discriminates against women. The states are free to change their own laws at any time; changes are actually being made each year liberalizing property rights, etc.

3. Is sex-based legislation necessarily bad?:

Does equality mean uniformity? No one is quite sure what “equal”and “rights” will mean under judicial interpretation. Because of this, the Equal Rights Amendment will throw doubt on the validity of many laws mentioning women and endless confusion will result until specific cases require the review of law or by the Courts and new laws are enacted where necessary.

A few state laws are over-due for change--such as exclusion of women from jury service, on which state Leagues have been active. Many other laws represent hard-won family or social rights, and their repeal would be a step backward. For that reason the League has preferred to work for specific changes which can be evaluated precisely in advance.

What Will Equal Rights Do To Your State?

The Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor lists state laws based on sex distinctions. Many of these may be invalidated if the Amendment is passed. They are of three types:

1. Family legislation. All state have laws founded on the common-law concept of the husband and father as the support of the family. The Equal Rights Amendment may require either that man and wife be jointly responsible for the support of each other and the children, or that neither would be; the right of mothers and widows to pensions might be refused. The family is basic to our civilization, and wholesale invalidation of family support and similar laws would endanger it.

2. Labor legislation. Women are handicapped in the labor market unless their position is equalized through legislation. The League of Women Voters has therefore supported state legislation establishing minimum wage scales for women, hours of work and sanitary and health safeguards. An Equal Rights Amendment may invalidate these laws.

The Woman’s Party differs radically in their approach to this problem. They claim that laws establishing minimum wages, setting maximum hours of work, etc. make it more difficult for women to get employment and so discriminate against them. However, the National Women’s Trade Union League and other labor organizations made up of women actually in factory jobs are fighting the Amendment vigorously. In New York state, which has a large number of “protective laws,” women workers have increased more rapidly than in many other areas, indicating that these laws do not discourage employment of women.

In theory some of these laws could be re-established by including men. To date, few states have revised statutes to do this; in some states there are constitutional difficulties.

3. Civic or Criminal legislation. These are laws establishing “age of consent,” which is usually lower for girls than for boys, age of majority or to inherit property, protection against rape, etc. In as much as these laws are based for the most part on accepted biologic differences between the sexes, it is difficult to see how they can be written except on a sex basis. They therefore illustrate especially the danger of constitutional prohibitions on specific legislation.

How to Act

We have a list of the laws in your state which may be invalidated by passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and will be glad to send it to you. Write for it today. Discuss it with your friends, your minister, your school civics teacher. Question your Senators, Congressmen, and state legislators about it. Many of them do not understand the issue and welcome such specific information.

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