An Equal Rights Amendment for the Twenty-First Century: Bringing Global Constitutionalism Home

64 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2017 Last revised: 1 Mar 2017

See all articles by Julie C. Suk

Julie C. Suk

Fordham University School of Law

Date Written: February 21, 2017


The last few years have seen a renewed push to constitutionalize sex equality in the United States. A generation after the federal Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) failed to be ratified by the requisite number of states, the ERA is on the platform of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. Oregon added a sex equality guarantee to its state constitution in 2014, joining 22 state constitutions and most constitutions around the world. Feminist coalitions, Hollywood celebrities, and members of Congress are vocally endorsing an ERA revival. Why is an ERA desired now, when judges have interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment to prohibit sex discrimination? Today’s ERA proponents want the Constitution to do something about women’s continued economic disadvantages, the unfair treatment of pregnant women and mothers in the workplace, women’s underrepresentation in leadership positions, and the inadequate responses to violence against women. Yet, the legal functions they attribute to the proposed constitutional guarantee — such as strict scrutiny for sex distinctions — are unlikely to respond to these post-industrial problems of gender inequality. Nonetheless, this Article proposes a new vision of the ERA’s legal function, drawing on the experience of global constitutionalism. Focusing on countries that adopted constitutional amendments on sex equality after the ERA’s failure, this Article shows how the constitutional right to sex equality can promote gender balance in positions of political and economic power, combat practices that disadvantage mothers in the workplace, and shift family care policies to increase fathers’ participation in childcare. In Europe, constitutional sex equality amendments since the 1990s go beyond outlawing sex discrimination; these new amendments engender and legitimize legislative efforts to disrupt the traditional gendered division of roles in the family and public spheres. Constitutional courts in Germany and France have construed these amendments as articulating actual equality between women and men as a principle by which the constitutional order’s legitimacy is measured, rather than as an individually enforced right. In the United States, there are some synergies between European constitutional innovations in gender equality and public policies that are emerging piecemeal at the state and local level. States are leading the way in legislating pregnant worker fairness, paid parental leave, and childcare. A motherhood movement and a wide range of actors from across the political spectrum are driving these new laws. These developments can shape an updated vision of constitutional sex equality for the United States. Taking inspiration from global constitutionalism, and recognizing the potential of state constitutionalism, this Article identifies the emerging new infrastructure of social reproduction — rather than antidiscrimination — as the normative core for the twenty-first-century ERA.

Keywords: Sex Equality, Equal Rights Amendment, Work and Family, Global Constitutionalism, State Constitutions

Suggested Citation

Suk, Julie C., An Equal Rights Amendment for the Twenty-First Century: Bringing Global Constitutionalism Home (February 21, 2017). Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, Forthcoming, Cardozo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 514, Available at SSRN:

Julie C. Suk (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

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New York, NY 10023
United States

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