EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT
Undoubtedly Justice Sharp's most famous, least understood, and most resented interference in matters of public policy was her opposition to the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution in North Carolina. Her opposition, largely due to the critical timing of the vote in North Carolina, had a major impact on the failure of the amendment nationally.
The ERA struggle spanned roughly twelve years, from 1970 to 1982, encompassing the last nine years of Justice Sharp's service on the North Carolina Supreme Court, four as chief justice, and continuing past her 1979 retirement. First introduced in Congress in 1923, three years after women achieved the right to vote, the ERA had languished for decades. It boiled to the surface in the late 1960s, and the recently formed National Organization for Women (NOW) vowed to fight for its ratifcation.
The women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s was a part of the tide of protest and change that surged out of the civil rights movement, Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, and the anti–Vietnam War crusade. This was the era of women activists such as Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Bella Abzug. Expressions such as “consciousness raising” became part of the language. Te first generation of women to benefit from the birth control pill, suddenly able to separate biology from destiny, began pouring into the higher education system and the job market. At the most visible levels, the face of America was changing, as, for example, when Barbara Walters became the first female network news anchor in 1976.
The proposed ERA read: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex. Te Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.” Such simple language, such a seemingly simple concept.