ONCE AGAIN a few members of Virginia's House of Delegates have kept their colleagues from voting on ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. That isn't fair. And it isn't exactly in keeping with the sort of participatory democracy evisioned by the drafters of the Constitution.
The Constitution says that Congress "shall propose Amendments" that "shall be valid . . . when ratified by the Legislatures of three-fourths of the several States." Granted, Article V does not explicity prevent Virginia's House Privileges and Elections Committee from bottling up ERA, as that panel has done since 1973 and last week voted 12 to 8 to do again.
But the spirit of the Constitution, at the very least, ought ot encourage state legislatures to debate and vote on amendments that Congress has proposed. Changing the federal charter is a decision of far greater magnitude than the run-of-the-mill legislation the House usually considers. If representative government means much, it surely means that all the people, through their state representatives, should have a voice in that national decision.
Down in Richmond, though, four-fifths of the House of Delegates have never voted on ERA straigh-forwardly, because a few of their colleagues - 12 this year - have stood between the measure and the House and proclaimed, "It shall not pass." This may or may not reflect the views of most delegates or most Virginians. Nobody knows. ERA's backers are not counting on Virginia, though there are signs that the amendment does have considerable support throughout the state. The only fair way to find out is to have all the delegates answer a roll call - and then answer to their constituents for their votes.
Perhaps fairness is no longer a factor in this fray. Perhaps ERA has taken on so much emotional and political freight in Richmond that the House can no longer address it squarely at all. There have certainly been enough setbacks and shenanigans in the past six years to make even the most decorous ERA supporters scream a bit from sheer frustration. But the House of Delegates can still redeem itself. It should amend it rules, retrieve the measure from its committee, or otherwise bring ERA to a floor vote before the congressionally set deadline in March of next year.