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Delaware Senate Democrats

State Senate passes Equal Rights Amendment to Delaware Constitution

January 21, 2021

DOVER – The Delaware State Senate today unanimously passed an Equal Rights Amendment to the Delaware Constitution – the first bill to clear the chamber in 151st General Assembly and one of eight proposals included in the Justice For All Agenda laid out by the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus.

“By passing this amendment to the Delaware Constitution, the State Senate today has taken a small but meaningful step on the long road of addressing the original sin of this nation and this state,” said Senator Darius Brown, the founding chair of the DLBC and prime sponsor of Senate Bill 31.

“Dismantling system racism in Delaware must begin with our founding document,” he said. “With this legislation, we are saying clearly that all people – no matter their skin color and no matter their background – are guaranteed the basic rights and dignity promised to us for generations.”

Senate Bill 31 specifically seeks to add “race, color and national origin” to the equal rights clause of Delaware’s Constitution first created by the 150th General Assembly in January 2019.

Equal protections under the law are guaranteed in Delaware under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but their absence from the state Constitution remains a glaring omission, particularly given the First State’s marred history on the issue of equal rights.

While the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawed slavery, the 14th Amendment guaranteed all people – including former slaves – equal protection and due process under the law. Delaware rejected the 14th Amendment in 1867, just as it had to the 13th Amendment two years prior. Delaware also rejected the 15th Amendment two years later.

Delaware finally ratified all three Reconstruction Amendments in 1901 – more than 30 years after they became the law of the United States.

Today, Delaware and more than 30 other states still lack provisions in their own constitutions to prohibit the denial or abridgement of equal rights under law on the basis of race, color or national origin.

“Once again, all members of this elective body made clear, that equality of rights
will not be denied to any Delawarean on account of their race, color, or national origin,” said Senator Ernesto B. Lopez, R-Lewes, a co-prime sponsor of SB 31. “To my fellow Senators, I say in my native Spanish: Gracias y sigamos avanzando unidos con humildad y respeto por todos.”


SB 31 represents the second leg of a Constitutional amendment that would explicitly make protections against discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin a fundamental right in our state.

Proposed amendments to the Delaware Constitution must be passed by two consecutive General Assemblies – and two-thirds of the members in each chamber – before becoming law. The first leg of the same Constitutional amendment unanimously passed both chambers of the General Assembly in 2020.

Senate Bill 31 now heads to the Delaware House of Representatives for final passage.

“As a lifelong Delawarean, I have a great understanding of the history of our state. Today, we moved one step closer to changing the course of history in the State of Delaware by adding People of Color as a protected class to the state’s Constitution,” said Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker, D-Wilmington West, the lead House sponsor of the bill. “This effort speaks volumes to the shift in our state’s culture regarding the Equal Rights Amendment. I look forward to guiding this amendment through its final step in the process in the House and adding the ERA to Delaware’s Constitution.”

Senate Bill 31 now heads to the Delaware House of Representatives for final passage.

“As a lifelong Delawarean, I have a great understanding of the history of our state. Today, we moved one step closer to changing the course of history in the State of Delaware by adding People of Color as a protected class to the state’s Constitution,” said Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker, D-Wilmington West, the lead House sponsor of the bill. “This effort speaks volumes to the shift in our state’s culture regarding the Equal Rights Amendment. I look forward to guiding this amendment through its final step in the process in the House and adding the ERA to Delaware’s Constitution.”

Several individuals, organizations and businesses testified in favor of Senate Bill 31’s passage when the legislation was heard in the Senate Executive Committee on Tuesday, including the League of Women Voters, the United Way of Delaware, Nemours Children’s Health System, the Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative and more.

“In the course of my work interacting with community-based organizations across Delaware, I am acutely aware of the role that race, color, and national origin too often plays in decision-making at every level,” said Michelle Taylor, president and CEO of United Way of Delaware. “By explicitly declaring in our State Constitution that discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin is now, and shall forever more be un-constitutional, this session of the Legislature will advance the cause of equal justice under law for all Delawareans in the most fundamental way.”

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