Capitol Hill Buzz: Meryl Streep asks Congress to revive ERA

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Posted: Jun 23, 2015 5:21 PM
Capitol Hill Buzz: Meryl Streep asks Congress to revive ERA

WASHINGTON (AP) — No actor or actress can match Meryl Streep's 19 Academy Award nominations, and only Katharine Hepburn has bested her three Oscars for acting. So maybe it's conceivable that Streep's letter Tuesday to each member of Congress can somehow revive the Equal Rights Amendment, politically dormant since its high-water mark four decades ago.

"I am writing to ask you to stand up for equality - for your mother, your daughter, your sister, your wife or yourself - by actively supporting the Equal Rights Amendment," Streep writes. Each packet includes a copy of "Equal Means Equal," a book by Jessica Neuwirth, president of the ERA Coalition.

Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972. Over the next decade, 35 states ratified it, three short of the 38 needed to add it to the Constitution.

Conservative opposition and other factors halted its momentum. They have helped relegate the ERA to America's political backburners ever since. Still, lawmakers from both parties regularly try to restart the process.

The proposed amendment 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."

Streep, who turned 66 on Monday, is among numerous celebrities who say disparities between men's and women's average salaries are one reason the amendment remains relevant and needed.

"A whole new generation of women and girls are talking about equality - equal pay, equal protection from sexual assault, equal rights," Streep's letter says.

Advocates in Hollywood and Washington are battling the notion that the ERA is an artifact whose time has passed.

"The time is ripe to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment," says Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. "Seventy percent of people polled think that we already have an ERA in the Constitution, and they're shocked to find we don't have one."

Comedian and author Chelsea Handler says, "You wouldn't think that in 2015, in the United States, women still need to fight for legal equality, but here we are."

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Malala Yousafzai, the teenager shot in the head by Pakastani militants in 2012, urged U.S. lawmakers Tuesday to support efforts to educate the world's children within a few years.

The Nobel laureate, 17, was meeting with members of the House and Senate, campaigning for countries to pay for 12 years of free primary and secondary education for all children by 2030.

"I'll continue this campaign until I see every child going to school," Malala said in a brief interview as she shuttled from a meeting with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, through the Capitol basement, to more appointments in the Senate.

The Malala Fund, the nonprofit organization she founded, is urging leaders to "invest in books, not bullets."

Malala surprised many in the media when she arrived in the Senate amid a rush of senators heading to a key vote. She posed for pictures and waved to those who recognized her.

Malala was shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban when she was returning in a vehicle along with several other students from school. The militants targeted her because she advocated education for women. She now lives in Britain with her family.

Malala won world acclaim for her campaign and last year was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She has expressed an interest in going into politics in Pakistan once her education is completed. Malala has two more years of school to complete.

Earlier this month, the Pakistani police and the country's public prosecutor revealed that eight out of 10 militants charged with involvement in the 2012 attack on Malala were actually acquitted in April — and not sentenced to life in prison as reported at the time.

The stunning announcement, which first came from Pakistan's deputy police chief, Azad Khan, offered no explanation as to why authorities had remained silent for so many weeks or why they had failed to correct the facts earlier.

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Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.