By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden on Thursday called on Congress to immediately enshrine the Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S. Constitution and formally protect women's rights decades nearly a century after lawmakers first raised them.
In a statement, Biden urged Congress "to pass a resolution recognizing ratification of the ERA," saying recent legal analysis showed there was nothing preventing lawmakers from acting.
The Democratic president's call comes amid jostling over the deadline to enact the ERA, which passed Congress in 1972 with a 1982 deadline to be enacted if 38 state legislatures voted to approve. Nearly 100 years have passed since it was first introduced in 1923.
Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives separately unveiled a resolution to enshrine the ERA, but it could fall short of the 60 votes needed in the Senate, where Democrats control just 50 seats.
While supporters say the ERA is needed to protect against sexual discrimination and would help achieve equal pay, opponents argue the original timetable has passed and that the amendment is no longer needed.
Virginia became the 38th state in 2020 to adopt the ERA, but Republican then-President Donald Trump sought to block ratification with a legal memo saying the process must begin anew.
A new Justice Department legal analysis, however, allows the process to move forward and "makes clear, there is nothing standing in Congress's way from doing so," Biden said.
House oversight panel Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney and other Democrats argue that the ERA made clear it takes effect two years after the final state's ratification, with Thursday marking two years since Virginia's vote.
The resolution "reaffirms what we already know to be true: the Equal Rights Amendment is the 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution," Maloney said.
The issue also remains entangled in the federal courts: Virginia, Illinois and Nevada sued to have the ERA declared valid.
In a statement, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration said it would abide by the Justice Department's legal opinion unless otherwise directed by a final court order.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by David Morgan and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Jonathan Oatis)