AP – A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed by three Democratic state attorneys general that had sought to force the federal government to recognise Virginia’s vote last year to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and add it to the Constitution.
Shortly after Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment that supporters said will guarantee women equal rights under the law, the archivist of the United States (US) declared he would take no action to certify the amendment’s adoption, citing an opinion from the Department of Justice under the Trump administration.
Constitutional amendments must be ratified by three-quarters of the states, or 38, but Congress enacted a ratification deadline for the ERA that passed decades ago.
In a ruling on Friday evening, US District Judge Rudolph Contreras said that Nevada, Illinois and Virginia’s motives were “laudable” but that they came too late because the US Congress set deadlines for ratifying the ERA long ago. Contreras also said the Archivist’s publication and certification of an amendment are “formalities with no legal effect” so the archivist’s failure to do that doesn’t cause harm and there’s no standing for the states to sue.
In their lawsuit, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul argued that the deadline, which was first set for 1979 and later extended to 1982, was not binding.
Herring said in a statement after the judge’s ruling that he is not giving up the fight and is considering an appeal, hopeful of backing from Democrat Joe Biden’s administration and Congress.
“While I do not believe that the arbitrary deadline Congress imposed on the ERA is binding in any way, I welcome any support from both the Biden Administration and Congress in ensuring that this amendment is recognised as part of the Constitution once and for all,” he said.
The US Department of Justice, which represented the Archivist of the US David Ferriero, declined to comment. An emailed message seeking comment from the press office of the National Archives and Records Administration was not immediately returned.
In a January 2020 opinion, the Justice Department said it was too late for states to sign off because of the deadline set by Congress decades earlier.
Ford in Nevada said in a statement on Friday that women have always been endowed with equal rights but it’s past time for the country to recognise that.