The Justice Department proposed yesterday that the Supreme Court immediately nullify a lower court's Equal Rights Amendment ratification ruling without addressing the major issues it raises.
It was the government's counterproposal to ERA backers, who have asked the court to hold expedited hearings and issue a full opinion on the issues. In its submission to the Supreme Court yesterday, the government said it opposed a rushed opinion.
The government's proposal yesterday to vacate the ruling is also acceptable to pro-ERA lawyers.
The court could take some action as early as today.
The legal maneuvering stems from a Dec. 23 finding by U.S. District Court Judge Marion Callister in Idaho declaring Congress' three-year extension of the ratification deadline unconstitutional and allowing states to rescind their prior ratifications of the controversial amendment.
ERA supporters and the Reagan administration want Callister's ruling to be nullified. But they disagree on the timing of the Supreme Court action, and timing is all-important at this point.
The deadline for ERA ratification is June 30 and at least three more states must approve the amendment to add it to the Constitution. Most state legislatures adjourn even before that time. The supporters contend that the Callister ruling, if allowed to stand, casts a cloud over these legislative deliberations that could doom the already faltering ERA.
In the submission yesterday, Acting Solicitor General Lawrence G. Wallace took the position that until June 30, when the amendment will either be ratified or will fail and thus become a dead issue, the debate is hypothetical. For that reason, he said, Callister should have never issued his opinion. If the Supreme Court now issues an opinion (as ERA backers desire), the justices will simply be compounding Callister's error, Wallace argued.
The court can correct the error quickly, the government said, by simply reversing it summarily on the grounds that it never should have been issued in the first place.
If there is a political advantage for the Reagan administration in this approach, it is that government lawyers would not have to address the sensitive issues of the case. On the other hand, the most vigorous opponents of the ERA would like to prolong the uncertainty as long as possible into the ratification period.
In a related action yesterday, Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.), joined by 29 other senators, sent a letter to the Justice Department urging that it advocate an expedited review at the court, as requested by ERA supporters.