By Ann MacLean Massie, professor of law emerita at Washington & Lee University. Reprinted from The Roanoke Times, February 6, 2019.
Editors’ Note: This Wednesday, February 20, the House of Delegates is scheduled to consider whether to vote on ratifying the ERA in Virginia. The legislative session ends for the year on Saturday.
As a retired Constitutional Law professor, I feel compelled to respond to the blatant inaccuracies in the opinion piece published by The Roanoke Times on Jan. 17 by Victoria Cobb and Marjorie Dannenfelser. Their column, “Women should beware of the E.R.A.” claimed that ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, now coming up again for a possible vote, would be dangerous for women, and, indeed, would undo many of the statutory non-discrimination protections enacted by Congress. Such a claim totally misconstrues the nature of the Constitution and its role in our national life. Cobb and Dannenfelser overlook the key fact that, other than the Thirteenth Amendment (which prohibits slavery and applies universally in the U.S.), the Constitution applies only to government conduct. If the E.R.A. were to become part of our Constitution, it would mean that government (federal, state, local) and all government actors (employees of government) would have to accord equal rights to all people, regardless of their gender. That would say nothing at all about the behavior of private entities and actors, such as private employers and private institutions, such as churches.