19th Amendment

  • November 6, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The evolution of the nation’s democratic process has been arduous, tragic and bloody. And the process which still excludes too many remains a work in progress.  

    It took a Civil War, constitutional amendments and eradication of Jim Crow for African Americans to be able to participate in democracy. But dogged bigots still worked on ways to keep blacks from the polls. The Voting Rights Act, enacted in 1965, was a step by the federal government to drag recalcitrant states into line and stop harassment and oppression of African Americans at the polls. We now have several states with long, tawdry histories of discriminating against minorities at the polls, fighting to gut a major enforcement provision of the VRA. (Some of those state officials, in Alabama, for instance argue that discrimination at the polls does not exist anymore and therefore Section 5 of the VRA needs to be dumped. Congress, however, has found ample evidence that discrimination against minorities at the polls is not a thing of the past.)

    It wasn’t until 1920 when women gained the right to vote via a constitutional amendment. In summer 1920 the 19th Amendment was ratified after a close vote in the Tennessee legislature. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of Sex,” it reads. And the ratification of the 19th Amendment didn’t happen overnight; it was nearly a 70-year work in progress.   

    Over at The Dish, Andrew Sullivan notes a “quick and comprehensive lesson” on voting rights, linking to a video, “Democracy Distilled: Examining the Evolution of our Nation’s Voting Rights.”

    The video, less than 4 minutes, notes, “When our nation was founded, voting rights were anything but equal. The freedoms we have today represent two centuries of successes and failures made by individuals constantly battling to make their voices heard.” Watch it here, or below the jump.

    The “battle” for voting rights though is one that we will likely drag on. The Supreme Court has given corporations greater power drown out individual voices and there remain too many state efforts to make voting difficult.

  • August 25, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Emily J. Martin, Vice President and General Counsel, National Women's Law Center
    Much like the Nineteenth Amendment itself these days, Women's Equality Day-the anniversary of the amendment's ratification-keeps a fairly low profile, sneaking in at the end of August, when much of the country is enjoying the last few days of summer vacation. But this August 26, the ninetieth anniversary of the constitutional guarantee of women's right to vote, it is worth stopping to reflect on the many years of labor that culminated in ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment and that work's relevance to women's progress going forward. One important way of honoring that history and continuing that progress would be ratification of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) , a landmark international agreement that affirms principles of fundamental equality for women and girls.

    In one of the few law review articles addressing the Nineteenth Amendment, Yale Law professor Reva Siegel describes it as "a constitutional amendment so rarely cited that reference to it prompts many, if not most, constitutional law scholars to ask: ‘Which one is that?'" In retrospect, its passage seems inevitable and the ground it broke has been largely forgotten. But ratification came in 1920 only after fifty years of fierce campaigning for a constitutional guarantee of full citizenship for women.

    As Siegel explains, opponents of women's right to vote saw suffragists' demands as deeply threatening. "The demand is for the abolition of all distinctions between men and women, proceeding upon the hypothesis that men and women are the same," one opponent asserted. "[This] attacks the integrity of the family; . . . it denies and repudiates the obligations of motherhood." Anti-suffragists asserted that a federal guarantee of women's right to vote represented a power grab for the federal government, which would "draw a line of political demarcation through a man's household, through his fireside, and to open to the intrusion of politics and politicians that sacred circle of the family." Given this history, it is ironic that last week a Washington Times op-ed invoked the anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to urge opposition to CEDAW, the women's rights treaty, in terms remarkably similar to those once used to oppose women's suffrage.

  • August 18, 2010

    by Jeremy Leaming

    While some politicians and pundits are trashing certain constitutional amendments, or provisions of them, others are celebrating the Constitution.

    Specifically some are commemorating an amendment ratified 90 years ago that advanced equality. The Constitution's 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, following a close vote in the Tennessee legislature. The amendment providing women the right to vote reads, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of Sex."

    Alice Germond, in a piece for Politico, notes that the amendment's passage was a longtime coming, "after nearly 70 years and several generations of work...." Germond continues that in the decades since the amendment's passage, "women have made great strides," noting the high percentage of women voters and the rising number of women in Congress and state legislatures. But she also notes that great strides are needed to secure equality and that the Obama administration has been engaged in the process.

    Germond writes:

    Although women continue to earn less than men - just 78 cents on the dollar, on average - President Obama took immediate action to close the gap. The very first bill the president signed after taking office was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which protects women against pay discrimination and helps to ensure women receive equal pay for equal work.

    In addition, President Obama has championed flexible work policies like paid sick leave, because he believes women should not have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for loved ones. Through a White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility and through the creation of a White House Council on Women and Girls, the president is working to better identify and address the challenges faced by women in the workplace.

    While commemorating the 19th amendment, the occassion should also include discussion of the need to make progress toward full equality Germond concludes.