Why the Nineteenth Amendment Matters Today: A Guide for the Centennial
34 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2019 Last revised: 29 Jul 2020
The story of the Nineteenth Amendment includes a half-century of social movement contestation over whether permitting women to vote would destroy or democratize the American family and the American constitutional structure. This Essay revisits that story—an unfinished narrative of both disappointment and hope—in the service of identifying reasons why it relates to the lives of contemporary Americans. The overarching objective of the Essay is to suggest that the full story of the Nineteenth Amendment has always involved much more than a narrow debate over a determinate decision rule regarding women’s access to the franchise. To accomplish that objective, the Essay makes four points in four parts. It first considers which women were enfranchised when and why it matters, emphasizing the importance of an intersectional sensibility in examining that question. The Essay then considers some of the groups (men) and structures (federalism) that both impeded and facilitated woman suffrage. Next, the Essay explains the link between restrictions on woman suffrage and the social subordination of women to men, showing how the anti-subordination rationale of the Nineteenth Amendment bears on both its own interpretation and the interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause by the courts. Finally, the Essay turns to the contemporary implications of the story of the Nineteenth Amendment for American constitutional politics, including debates over the Equal Rights Amendment, unequal pay for equal work, paid family and self-care leave, and restrictions on access to contraception and abortion.
Keywords: Nineteenth Amendment, women's rights, woman suffrage, voting rights
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