Congress Equal Rights Amendment

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined at left by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and other congressional Democrats, holds an event about their resolution to remove the deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — An effort to revive the long-stalled Equal Rights Amendment is one step closer, after the U.S. House advanced legislation to eliminate a deadline that passed nearly four decades ago.

Still, the ERA’s future still faces major hurdles, including a GOP-controlled U.S. Senate and a lawsuit led by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.

Louisiana’s U.S. House members split along party lines when the issue came to the floor for a vote this week, with U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, in favor and U.S. Reps. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson; Ralph Abraham, R-Alto; Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge; Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre; and Mike Johnson, R-Benton, voting against.

"As our theory has been, when women succeed, America succeeds ... That's what we believe, and that's what we're acting upon," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said shortly before its passage on a near party-line 232-183 vote. "Some people are putting forth excuses, but we expect to have a bipartisan vote in the Senate."

The proposed constitutional amendment, often called the ERA, has been around for decades but only met its ratification threshold when Virginia became the pivotal 38th state this year.

State lawmakers considered ERA ratification for Louisiana in the 2019 legislative session, but the Louisiana Senate killed the proposal in a landslide vote in May. Had it passed, Louisiana would have taken the 38th state designation that Virginia went on to claim in January.

ERA seeks to amend the constitution to include that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

This week's House-backed proposal would remove a 1982 deadline to finalize the ERA to reopen the process and allow the Constitution to be amended to ban discrimination based on sex.

"There is no expiration date on equality,'' said Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat and the resolution's sponsor.

Landry's office didn't respond to requests for comment on Thursday and Friday. Alabama and South Dakota leaders also are part of the anti-ERA lawsuit.

In a statement last month, Landry, the chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association, said, “Anybody who wants to amend our nation’s most important foundational document needs to follow the established rules and procedures, not take shortcuts and then bully and bulldoze until they get their way."

Several Louisiana Republicans, including Steve Scalise, who is the GOP's No. 2 in the chamber, and Johnson, who leads the influential Republican Study Committee, have spoken out against the ERA's passage because they think it would upend several anti-abortion laws and prevent future restrictions on abortion access. The same argument sank the proposed ratification in the Louisiana Legislature.

During a House committee hearing on the effort to cancel the ERA deadline, Johnson said the abortion issue was “at the top of the list of concerns.”

“We think the Hyde Amendment would be greatly jeopardized by the passage of the ERA,” he said, adding that it could strike down other anti-abortion laws.

The Hyde Amendment, which dates back to the 1970s, prohibits federal funding for abortions, except in the most extreme cases, such as incest or danger to the life of the mother.

Johnson also cited liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a supporter of the ERA, and her repeatedly stated position that the ratification process needs a restart.

“This effort to retroactively erase the original deadline is just patently unconstitutional,” Johnson said. "If the ERA is ever to become part of the constitution, the process has to start over again."

How U.S. House members from Louisiana voted

For eliminating the deadline on the Equal Rights Amendment: U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans.

Against: U.S. Reps. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto; Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge; Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre; Mike Johnson, R-Benton; and Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson.

Email Elizabeth Crisp at ecrisp@theadvocate.com and follow on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.