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Constitutional Law Conference to focus on 19th Amendment

Legal News Reporter

Published: September 12, 2019

It has been just over 100 years since Congress passed the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919, giving women the right to vote.

Ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, the amendment states, the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

The amendment gave Congress the power to enforce the article by “appropriate legislation.”

But has the 19th Amendment lived up to its promise of gender equality? That’s the question that the seventh annual Constitutional Law Conference at The University of Akron School of Law will seek to answer.

Sponsored by Akron Law’s Center for Constitutional Law, the Sept. 20 event brings together scholars from law, history, political science and women’s studies for a daylong discussion on the amendment’s passage and impact.

“The voting amendment was interpreted as a broad command for gender equality, but the trend was quickly reversed,” said Tracy Thomas, Seiberling Chair of Constitutional Law and director of the Center for Constitutional Law.

“The conference will explore the events leading up to the amendment, what it promised and what it actually accomplished in society today.”

Entitled “The 19th Amendment at 100: From the Vote to Gender Equality,” the event kicks off at 8:30 a.m. with a brief introduction by Thomas, followed by introductory speaker Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director and voting rights director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“I plan to focus on three areas,” said Abudu. “I will begin by talking about the positive impacts of the 19th Amendment such as the fact that the registration rate and turnout numbers at the polls are much higher among females than their male counterparts, regardless of racial and ethnic demographics.

“The second area will explore the unfinished work we still have left to do,” she said. “I will discuss the recent backlash concerning women’s reproductive rights, the increased number of women who are incarcerated and pay inequities.”

Abudu said she will conclude by addressing strategies for supporting more women in positions of political and economic power. 

This year’s keynote speaker is Ellen Carol DuBois, a retired UCLA professor of history and gender studies. DuBois is the author of the forthcoming seminal work on women’s suffrage entitled, “Suffrage: Women’s Long Battle for the Vote” (Feb. 2020) and was an onscreen commentator in the Ken Burns PBS Documentary on women’s suffrage, “Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony.”

DuBois will discuss the aftermath of the 19th Amendment, exploring challenges and gaps left in women’s public rights even after the passage of the amendment.

In addition, there will be four panels throughout the day, which will focus on topics such as the history of the Women’s Suffrage Movement as well as extensions, applications and the Constitutional meaning of the 19th Amendment.

“There were 18 demands made by the original Women’s Suffrage Movement in Seneca Falls, New York and the right to vote was only one of them,” said Thomas. “The amendment was a long time coming and it did not provide what activists initially thought.

“Our examination of the 19th Amendment is timely because of its anniversary, but it also dovetails the #MeToo Movement and women’s marches, which raise the question what does gender equality really mean?”

The Constitutional Law Conference is timed to coincide with the nation’s celebration of Constitution Day on Sept. 17.

Thomas said the conference is expected to draw a national audience, including lawyers, judges, students and scholars.

“We usually attract 100 people, but we expect a larger number of attendees this time,” said Thomas.

Panels will be recorded and papers will be published in the Akron Law Review and its companion journal ConLawNOW, all of which will be available later on the center’s website.

The conference takes place on Sept. 20 at The University of Akron School of Law in Brennan Courtroom 180. It begins at 8 a.m. in the McDowell Common, where a free continental breakfast will be provided.

The conference is free unless the participant is seeking CLE. A total of 7.0 hours have been approved at a cost of $100.

Advanced registration is preferred. To register, go to https://www.uakron.edu/law/ccl/registration/index.dot.