Making Democracy Work

Social Justice & the ERA

Equal Rights Amendment, Racial Justice

Two Interconnected Movements for Equality

The two movements, equality for women and equality for African-Americans, have paralleled and spurred each other. It was women abolition leaders who met at Seneca Falls in 1848 to demand the vote that women won in 1920. Following the African-American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, white women have been the largest number of beneficiaries, simply because they are 51% of the population while African-Americans are 15%. Historically, times that expanded rights blessed both; times that contracted rights dashed hopes and opportunities for both.The advancement of either women or African-Americans brings a backlash from fears of displacement, especially during economic contractions. This backlash is more severe in geographies containing large percentages of African-Americans, leaving a minority of white men. No Deep South state ratified the Equal Vote Amendment; none has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. At times the two movements have clashed and, sadly, competed. (See How the Suffrage Movement Betrayed Black Women. They have been strongest when working together.


SC Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, pre-filed H-3391, asking SC to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in 2019.
Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter
Gilda Cobb-Hunter

Representatives Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, and Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, have pre-filed similar legislation, H-3340. The ERA would guarantee equal rights to all Americans, regardless of sex. It 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.

Representative Peter McCoy, Jr
Peter McCoy, Jr

Let's dispel a myth; most Americans think that women have equal rights grounded in the US Constitution. They do not, as the late Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out in 2010. What women have depended upon is statutory or changeable law from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. That law is still on the books but key parts are increasingly unenforceable; a law is only as good as its enforcement.

Let's take the equal pay law as an example. During World War II, there was an agency proposal to pay women equally in order to recruit Rosie the Riveter and

her companion workers into nontraditional jobs. The war ended before it was implemented, but the idea became law in 1963, and was bolstered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Rep Leon Stavinakis
Leon Stavrinakis

In 2007, the Supreme Court in Ledbetter v. Goodyear ruled against Lily Ledbetter's equal pay case. After 20 years of work, she learned that she had been paid thousands less than men in her job. The degree of the current Supreme Court's hostility can be judged from their reasoning: that Ledbetter should have filed her claim within 6 months of the first unequal paycheck, despite the fact that she had no way of knowing her unfair treatment. Two years later, Congress "restored" the Equal Pay law. However, in a 2011 case brought against Wal-Mart for unequal pay and promotion, the Court said that the plaintiffs had to prove "intention" to discriminate, a virtually impossible bar.

The same type of on-and-off-again cycle has happened with discrimination against pregnancy and equal opportunity in education and sports, but if a plaintiff has to prove intention, the law is a hollow shell.

An Equal Rights Amendment would provide a permanent and high standard ("strict scrutiny" in legal terms) for judging sex discrimination. It would shift the burden of proof from the plaintiff to the opposition.

Equal Means Equal Logo

The years since the early Civil Rights laws like Equal Pay that helped women greatly have proven how quickly these advancements can be eliminated in all but name. That's why the permanence and strength of the ERA is needed.

See Why Aren't American Women's Rights Guaranteed by Law? - 2017 Newsweek article

A recent podcast, in strong language, explains the current need for the ERA and the stage of ratification.

We have compiled a general list of videos, websites, and resources that highlight both the history of the ERA and the re-invigorated advocacy efforts today.

Dr. Olin Sansbury: Can We Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment?

The longest serving member of the South Carolina House of Representatives has vowed to seek ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) when next year's legislative session begins. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Democratic minority leader of the SC House, apparently knows the odds are against her in gaining approval to add the guarantee of women's rights to the US Constitution.

It was on December 10, 1923, that the first attempt was officially made to enshrine such protection. Two Kansas Republicans, Senator Charles Curtis and Rep. Daniel R. Anthony, Jr., introduced an ERA proposal to Congress that day, ninety-five years ago. It went nowhere. By the way, Anthony was the nephew of Susan B. Anthony.

Not until the 1970s did the ERA make any significant progress. In 1971 the US House of Representatives approved the amendment by a vote of 354-24. A year later the US Senate followed, voting 84-8 in favor. However, two Democrats, NC Senator Sam Erwin and NY Rep. Emanuel Celler, two old white guys, succeeded in attaching a seven-year ratification time limit, a seldom used caveat. Therein lies the challenge Cobb-Hunter must address.

Initially, the time limit did not appear an obstacle. With Hawaii leading off, 22 states ratified the ERA by the end of 1972. Another eight gave support in 1973 and three more followed in 1974. At this point the ratification process began to stall and only two additional states, North Dakota (1975) and Indiana (1977) voted for the amendment before time ran out. Indiana was the 35thstate to ratify. Thirty-eight are necessary.

In general, opposition to the ERA has not been straightforward---women do not deserve equal rights. That would be easily rejected by most Americans. Instead, arguments have been more deflective, perhaps not maliciously so, but still diverting attention from the true purpose and effect of the amendment which is simple in language but comprehensive in intent:

Sec.1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Sec.2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. Sec.3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Antifeminist icon Phyllis Schlafly epitomized early naysayers arguing the ERA would eliminate gender-specific privileges for women, such as dependent wife Social Security benefits, separate restrooms and exemption from the draft. She called her campaign STOP ERA, STOP an acronym for "Stop Taking Our Privileges." More reasonable opponents, including some labor organizations, expressed misgivings about the ERA's impact on protections for employed women regarding working conditions and employment hours.

I must admit my initial attitude towards the amendment was wary. I was not opposed to "equal rights for women," but it seemed they already existed and did not need reinforcement by constitutional amendment. But during the latter stages of the ratification campaign a student in my American National Government class at USC Spartanburg wrote a position paper on the ERA. She laid out the case that protections women enjoyed were legislatively granted and were not only limited in scope and application but could be withdrawn by congressional whim or narrowly interpreted by judges. Her arguments were so cogent, I became a supporter.

Events in recent years have reinforced the vulnerability to discrimination women face in today's US economy. The Equal Pay Act passed in 1963 purportedly abolished wage disparity based on sex, but in a 2007 decision, Ledbetter v. Goodyear, the US Supreme Court denied the plaintiff relief because she failed to file her grievance within six months of the first discriminatory salary decision even though Lilly Ledbetter had no way of knowing about the ongoing disparity until years later.

In January 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act overturning the decision but doing nothing for the former Goodyear employee. Nor did it discourage the US Supreme Court from ruling in 2011 against 1.6 million women employees of Wal-Mart who were alleging gender discrimination in pay and promotion policies and practices. In Wal-Mart v. Dukes the court claimed the plaintiffs did not have enough in common to constitute a "class."

There has been progress in reducing bias against women. Women participate in the military, they are increasingly found in leadership positions throughout society and their numbers in the US Congress just got a considerable bump up. Ratification of the ERA would reinforce these advancements.

As for the ratification time limit, the 1992 decision of the US Congress to adopt the 27th Amendment, which had been pending before state legislatures since 1789, is sufficient precedent for removing the ERA's deadline. Two states recently ratified the amendment in anticipation of possible congressional action; Nevada in March 2017 and Illinois in April 2018.

For twenty years South Carolina has been among the ten worse states for domestic violence; four times the worst. In 2016, the last year for which there are statistics, SC ranked sixth. How delightful it would be if SC were the state to push the Equal Rights Amendment over the top.

Dr. Olin Sansbury, former Chancellor of USC Upstate, has taught political science and international affairs. Olin Sansbury His comments come from his blog, Putting in My Shovel

City Council Passes Apology for Slavery

On June 19, 2018, the Charleston City Council passed a resolution which apologized for the city's role in slavery and promised mitigation of the lingering effects of slavery. The preamble to the resolution reads:


Reading for Racial Justice

The Charleston League designed a bookmark that provides partial but essential background for understanding today's racial justice issues. Feel free to download, print, or share.

Bookmark Side 1 | Bookmark Side 2

Other resources:

Recent Social Justice events

Film on race and incarceration
Screening of 13th and LWV Panel Discussion: This powerful film about race, justice, and mass incarceration was followed by a panel discussion led by the Charleston LWV and including Lisa Brock, Dr. Stacey Patton, and Susan Dunn.

Above, Michael B. Moore, IAAM President and CEO, spoke about the coming International African American Museum for the 2016 LWV Annual Meeting. This new museum contributes to an awareness as expressed in the words of Dr. Jeffery P. Robinson, Deputy ACLU Director: To heal our racial wounds, we must honor the history that began at Gadsden's Wharf.

LWV members hold MLK banner
Members of the Charleston area League of Women Voters honor participating in the annual Martin Luther King parade, January 2018.

Present and Future Leaguers participated in the Unity March for the Mother Emanuel 2017 Commemoration.

Jeffery Robinson Lecture: A Chronicle of Racism in American

Sponsored by the Charleston Area League of Women Voters on September 20, 2018. Nationally recognized leader on criminal and racial justice, Jeffery Robinson, ACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of the Trone Center for Justice and Equality, spoke about the history of racism in America.

Jeffery Robinson
Jeffery Robinson

See Robinson speak about the meaning of the Confederate flag

See Robinson speak about The History of racism in America, Part I

See Robinson speak about The History of racism in America, Part II

Private Screening: "On the Basis of Sex" January 12, 11:00 AM Terrace Theater

Note: This event was sold out.

Join us at 11am at the Terrace Theatre (1956 Maybank Hwy, James Island) to celebrate the New Year as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returns to the big screen in the new film On The Basis of Sex. Ginsburg Film

You'll be one of the first in Charleston to see the new movie, and will get to celebrate Justice Ginsburg's work on behalf of women's rights and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). After the film, we'll move over to the Maybank Public House, where we'll be honoring some of the women who were ERA leaders in South Carolina in the 1970s and early 1980s. AND you'll meet some women that will be ERA leaders this year, as legislation to ratify the ERA has been introduced in the SC State House!