Ahead of Juneteenth, congressional lawmakers again seek to remove exception for slavery from US Constitution

The “Abolition Amendment” was introduced on Wednesday ahead of Juneteenth – the national holiday commemorating the end of slavery – by Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rep. Nikema Williams of Georgia.

The 13th Amendment presently says, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The new resolution would clarify: ”Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude may be imposed as a punishment for a crime.”

The resolution would not seek to “interfere with opportunities for incarcerated people to consent to work,” its sponsors said.

It’s no easy task to amend the Constitution – the resolution would require a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress before it is sent to the states, where at least 38 legislatures would need to approve it for ratification – and the effort to erase the slavery exception has failed in previous congressional sessions.

But advocates are encouraged by recent state-level efforts to amend their constitutions to remove the exception.

“The reality of that narrow exception is that it’s impacted millions of people because slavery is still very much legal as criminal punishment. But I think at the root of it, we really are sort of centered on this idea that slavery is always wrong. There is no circumstance under which it is OK to enslave someone,” said Bianca Tylek, the executive director of Worth Rises, a nonprofit that is campaigning to negate the clause from the 13th Amendment.

Those pushing the legislation told CNN that most Americans don’t realize the “loophole” in the 13th Amendment. In a news release, they said that the “slavery clause” led to higher rates of arrests among Black Americans for “minor crimes, like loitering or vagrancy, codified in ‘Black Codes’” throughout the Jim Crow era.

2023-06-17T17:01:23+00:00June 17th, 2023|

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