It’s hard to believe that for most of American history, women could not vote. That all changed with the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution on this day in history – August 18, 1920. This was the culmination of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States which fought at both state and national levels to achieve the vote. It effectively overruled Minor v. Happersett, in which a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment did not give women the right to vote.
The 19th Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1878 by Senator Aaron A. Sargent. Forty-one years later, in 1919, Congress approved the amendment and submitted it to the states for ratification. It was ratified by the requisite number of states a year later, with Tennessee’s ratification being the final vote needed to add the amendment to the Constitution. In Leser v. Garnett (1922), the Supreme Court rejected claims that the amendment was unconstitutionally adopted.
When America cried out for women’s right to vote, it would have been easy for traditionalists to say, “But this [women not being able to vote] has been established law since the foundation of our country – 144 years ago.”
Likewise, every time a pro-life person calls for a Constitutional amendment to ban abortions, we hear this – “But the right to choose is established law.” And that’s true. It’s been “established” law for 41 years, less than 100 years as long as it was “established law” that women could not vote.
In fact, if not for overturning “established law,” there would be no amendments to the Constitution. That’s what amendments do – they overturn “established law.”
Today, it’s interesting. Many of the very people who would fight the battle all over again, for the right of women to have their voices heard (all of us, I would hope), seek to deny the rights of the unborn to be heard. For them, it’s okay to kill the unborn, as long as it is “established law.”
I’m guessing the unborn would be okay with us passing an amendment so they can live, even if we are overturning “established law,” just as we did on this day in history – 97 years ago.