ERA leaders map plans for 2-front battle

Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment are vowing to fight on for ratification in the face of a devastating blow dealt last week by a federal court.

In Virginia, state legislators arriving for their new session in Richmond Jan. 13 will be greeted by a candlelight vigil for the ERA. Election victories of pro-ERA candidates and a decidedly pro-ERA new governor had fueled some optimism that Virginia might become one of the three states still needed to enact the constitutional amendment.

But a dark cloud has now moved over the campaign in the ruling made Dec. 23 by District Court Judge Marion J. Callister in Boise, Idaho. If that decision stands, it ends the current ERA crusade.

Judge Callister's double-barreled ruling could hardly have been worse for amendment supporters. It allows Idaho and any other state to rescind approval of the ERA. In all, five states have tried to take back their ratification votes. The decision also tosses out as unconstitutional an act of Congress which extended the deadline for ratification.

Congress granted an extension to give ERA supports until June 30, 1982, to win over the required 38 states for amending the Constitution. If it stands, the ruling means that time has already run out on the amendment.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) will appeal the ruling with hopes of winning an emergency hearing in the US Supreme Court. The group asserts that it is certain to win a reversal.

The Idaho ruling is ''a radical departure on established precedence'' says Laurence Tribe, Harvard University constitutional law professor and an adviser to NOW. Courts have found that Congress, not the court, has the power to decide both deadlines for ratification and whether to count recisions, he says. (Several states attempted to back out on passage of the 14th Amendment, but Congress counted them as ratified states anyhow.)

Even if NOW can convince the Supreme Court to hear its case, a ruling could not come until February at earliest.

''The danger is with the uncommitted people,'' in state legistatures, says Patricia Winton, a NOW state coordinator in Virginia. These members may be less inclined to support the amendment since the federal court ruling came down, she says, although sponsors in both Virginia houses promise to push for ratification anyway.

Organizers also plan to concentrate efforts on Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina.

At the same time, Phyllis Schlafly, who directs STOP ERA, a national effort to halt the amendment, says her group will also continue its effort.

''We'll still be working on the ERA if the ERAers continue to agitate,'' she says from her Alton, Ill., headquarters.

She blamed the timing of the ruling on the ERA supporters themselves, not on the court. NOW had challenged Judge Callister's impartiality because he held a high post in the Mormon church, a staunch opponent of the ERA. Callister later resigned from his church post, but declined to excuse himself in the case.

Women's groups have been trying for more than 50 years to win approval for the amendment, which states ''Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.'' They finally achieved the necessary two-thirds majority in Congress in 1972 and have been trying to win the needed 38 states ever since.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.