On the Equal Rights Amendment, North Dakota’s congressional leaders are lukewarm — and, in the case of Rep. Kelly Armstrong, deeply skeptical.
The amendment, which would mandate equal legal treatment regardless of sex, has been the subject of debate for decades. It fell short of ratification in the 1970s when only 35 state legislatures backed it — just shy of the 38 required. Congress extended the ratification deadline to 1982, but no more states joined.
But since then, three more states have voted to ratify, including Virginia in 2020. That’s newly raised the possibility that, without the 1982 deadline, the amendment might be considered passed. And that’s why the U.S. House of Representatives voted 222-204 to lift the ratification deadline on March 17.
Armstrong, a Republican and North Dakota's lone member of the U.S. House, voted against the measure. In a statement provided by his office this week, he argued that the deadline for ratification has long passed, rendering the recent vote “a political talking point.” The only remedy, he argued, is for Congress to start over, re-proposing the amendment to the states.
“Far-left special interest groups have advocated for the ERA so it can be used to challenge pro-life laws in states like North Dakota and expand abortion coverage,” Armstrong said, arguing that the Constitution already guarantees equal protection.
The argument could be moot because the ERA, close though it may appear to passage, is mired in legislative and legal gridlock. A federal judge ruled earlier this month that the most recent ratifications couldn’t be counted. And since the 1970s, multiple states have rescinded their ratification of the amendment. North Dakota became one of them on March 19, after the state House and Senate took back their own 1975 ratification (when North Dakota had become the 34th state to back the measure).
That repeal was difficult for state Sen. JoNell Bakke, D-Grand Forks, who voted against the rescission. She said she sees ERA passage as the next step in a long history of improving rights for women — it’s an important legal beachhead for gender pay parity, for example. She rejected the argument that the ERA would advance abortion.
"I have three granddaughters, and I have a daughter and a daughter-in-law,” she said. “I hope we don't go backward so we start losing the rights that some of us worked so hard to gain."
But the federal repeal of the ratification deadline is likely going nowhere in a Senate that’s still half-Republican, and where the GOP minority still has the power of the filibuster. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and the office of Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., gave brief statements on the amendment this week, responding to the Herald’s questions about their thoughts on the deadline and the ERA itself.
“Time has proven the Equal Rights Amendment to be unnecessary,” Cramer said in a statement provided by his office. “Our Constitution guarantees equal opportunity for all Americans.”
Hoeven’s office also offered a statement.
“Senator Hoeven believes that everyone should be treated fairly and with respect as required under the law,” the statement read. “It is up to the state Legislature to determine whether they want to adopt constitutional amendments, and we respect their right to make these determinations.”