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IOP Panelists Discuss Equal Rights Amendment and Women’s Suffrage at JFK Jr. Forum

Harvard Kennedy School
The Harvard Kennedy School, pictured in 2017.

A panel of activists and legal experts pushed for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and stressed the importance of political activism at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum Monday night.

Harvard Institute of Politics Resident Fellow LaTosha Brown, League of Women Voters CEO Virginia Kase, and former Stanford Law School Dean Kathleen M. Sullivan served as panelists. All three speakers offered their support for the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would guarantee equal rights regardless of sex.

The American Bar Association co-hosted the event, which was dubbed “Fighting for Political Power: Women’s Inclusion from the 19th Amendment to 2020.” Sarah Wald, an adjunct lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, moderated the talk.

Panelists discussed a wide array of issues, including the women’s suffrage movement, voter suppression, and the importance of voter participation.

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Sullivan said she hopes the Equal Rights Amendment will be ratified in her lifetime.

“We are the only industrialized democracy with a bill of rights in the world that doesn’t have a gender equality provision in the Constitution,” she said.

First proposed in 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment was approved by Congress in 1972. It failed, however, to receive support from three-fourths of the states, which is necessary for ratification. The proposed amendment is currently just one state shy of the total of 38 needed.

Despite some opposition from legal scholars, Sullivan said she believes that, if another state were to sign on to the proposal now, it could still be ratified under the Constitution.

“I believe, and I’ve testified to Congress, that if we got a 38th state now, it could still be ratified because nothing in Article 5 — which provides for Constitutional amendments — puts a time limit on ratification,” she said.

American Bar Association President Judy P. Martinez, who introduced the panel, said in an interview after the discussion that she found Sullivan’s legal arguments to be “fascinating.”

“I have a daughter and I have three sons,” Martinez said. “For each of their futures, I want to make sure that there is, in fact, a day in this country where women have equal rights on every front.”

Brown, who co-founded the Black Voters Matter Fund, said later in the discussion that she thinks political organizing will be important in order to bring about social change in the United States.

“How do we take this radical reimagining of America and move that forward?” Brown asked. “It doesn’t happen through the courts. It doesn’t happen through legislation. It happens through people and organization.”

Zeena Lattouf, a Harvard Kennedy School student and event attendee, said it was important to her to see women take the lead.

“It’s inspiring to be around so many strong women of different backgrounds both professionally and culturally,” Lattouf said.

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