Law School Hosts Equal Rights Amendment Symposium

William & Mary Law School was buzzing with law experts from across the country who gathered on Nov. 9th to discuss whether Virginia will become the 38th and final state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

The Virginia Equal Rights Coalition along with VAratifyERA partnered with the Law School’s American Constitution Society (ACS), the Women’s Law Society, the Institute of Bill of Rights Law, and the Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice to co-sponsor the symposium: “A Place in History: Should Virginia Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment?” Panelists featured the Law School’s own 1L student Melanie Allen who detailed how gender equality is dealt with in constitutions across the world. Also speaking at the event was Professor of Law Vivian Hamilton, who is also an Affiliated Professor at William & Mary in Gender, Sexuality, & Women’s Studies.

Other speakers included Senator Scott Surovell and Delegate Kaye Kory of the Virginia General Assembly; professors including Wendy Murphy of the New England School of Law and Alicia Plerhoples of Georgetown University; attorneys such as Deborah Golden of the Human Rights Defense Center, Kate Kelly of Equality Now and Kati Dean of Locke & Quinn; and many more.

 Holly Hazard of the Virginia Equal Rights Coalition said she meets people who believe Virginia already has an Equal Rights Amendment. The purpose of the daylong symposium was to shatter that assumption and to explain why such an amendment was needed and discuss why Virginia has yet to see ratification of the amendment.

The daylong symposium first delved into the history of the amendment, detailing a renewed effort to push the last three states – Nevada, Illinois and Virginia – to ratify the Equal Rights Amendments. Nevada passed the amendment in 2017 with Illinois following suit earlier this year. Supporters of the ERA hope growing activism will play out in their favor in the 2019 legislative session, making Virginia the final state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

The symposium then moved to legal context and comparisons of the amendment. The room, which was a mix of students, legal experts and members of the community, was also opened up to questions.  Experts such as Shuchi Sharma, Global Vice President/ Lead of Gender Intelligence at SAP Software, focused on the benefits businesses would reap through an Equal Rights Amendment. Becky Burkeof Protect Our Defenders said those with the most to gain would be low-income single mothers, who would finally achieve equal pay. Meanwhile, longtime ERA supporter John Cook focused on the wide scale benefits.

“We ought to have a statement that all people are viewed equally under the law and we don’t have that statement,” explained Cook, Supervisor of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “That’s not a little thing. That’s a big deal. We’re having this international dialogue of who we are in the world. Well,  who are we?”

The symposium was followed by a 10-day bus tour across Virginia by Virginia’s Campaign to Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

Reflecting on the event, Scott McMurtry J.D. '19, president of ACS, said the symposium had the largest turnout for an ACS event in his time with the student group and he was proud of how it came together to raise awareness about efforts to ratify the ERA in Virginia.

About William & Mary Law School

Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.