CHICAGO -- Testifying before a Illinois State Senate Committee today, ACLU of Illinois Executive Director Colleen Connell today urged the General Assembly to "finish the job" of assuring equality and equal justice under law by voting to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment. The testimony came as part of discussion over SJRCA 75, a measure that would add Illinois to the list of states ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.

"Women in Illinois and across the nation deserve equal protection under the law -- equality that only can be assured by ratification of the ERA," Connell told the committee. "That equality is far from assured today. Indeed, not long ago, Justice Antonin Scalia publicly argued that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not protect against sex discrimination."

"In the 21st Century, women deserve to be protected, by our Constitution, from gender-based discrimination," added Connell.

In her testimony, Connell notes that sex discrimination is not a thing of the past, and that only the adoption of a strong Equal Rights Amendment provides courts at the state and federal level with a clear standard for striking back against such treatment of women. Connell noted that it has only been since 1971 that the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause was first applied to gender discrimination. And, she noted, women today enjoy a lower standard of protection ("intermediate scrutiny" vs. "strict scrutiny") as a result of Supreme Court jurisprudence in this area.

In short, the ACLU argues that only passage of the ERA can protect the gains of women in recent years in their search for equality and clear up lingering confusion and inconsistency about how courts should deal with claims of gender discrimination.

"Passage of the ERA would send a very strong signal to the courts that gender discrimination is not tolerated under our Constitution, and direct courts to redress such bias treatment of women wherever and whenever it occurs," said Connell.

The ERA was originally adopted by Congress in 1972 and sent to the states for ratification. Although Congress initially contemplated a seven-year ratification process, that process was extended to a 10-year process. And, the actual enacting language of the Equal Rights Amendment contained no time restriction -- a fact pointed to by many legal scholars. At the end of that time period, only 35 of the necessary 38 states had ratified the ERA and many active efforts to pass the measure in the remaining states ceased.

While the ERA has been reintroduced in Congress for many years, efforts for ratification got a boost in 1992, with the final ratification of the Constitution's 27th Amendment (regarding congressional pay) after a 203-year ratification process. Legal scholars, supported by the Library of Congress' Congressional Research Service, have concluded that the acceptance of the 27th Amendment makes clear that Congress can accept the ERA as part of the Constitution following approval by three more states.

"The clear news here is that the ERA is not dead," according to Connell. "Illinois can play an important role in providing momentum for passage of the ERA."

"The time is now to act."