NEW YORK – US lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a joint resolution aimed at removing text from the Constitution that enshrines a form of slavery in the nation’s founding document.
The resolution, initiated and endorsed by Senators and Democratic representatives, modifies the 13th Amendment to clearly prohibit forced servitude as punishment for a crime. In its ratified form, the amendment has allowed the exploitation of prisoner labor for more than 155 years since the abolition of slavery.
The 13th Amendment “continued the process of a white privileged class severely mistreating Black Americans, creating generations of poverty, the dissolution of families, and this wave of mass incarceration that we continue to grapple with today,” Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley said in remarks. to The Associated Press before filing the resolution.
A version in the House of Representatives is led by Democrat William Lacy Clay, who said the amendment “seeks to complete the work that President Abraham Lincoln started.”
It would eliminate “the dehumanizing and discriminatory forced labor of prisoners for financial gain that has been used to fuel the excessive incarceration of African-Americans since the end of the Civil War,” Clay said.
In the Senate, the resolution is jointly promoted by Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey and Chris Van Hollen. “This change to the 13th Amendment will finally rid our nation of a legalized form of slavery,” Van Hollen said in an emailed statement.
Constitutional amendments are unusual, requiring approval by two-thirds of the lower house and Senate, in addition to ratification by three-quarters of state legislatures. If the proposal fails to get past commission level in the weeks left to the current Congress, Markey said he hopes to revive it next year.
The work is supported by more than a dozen human rights and social justice organizations.
It comes nearly a month after voters in Nebraska and Utah passed bills amending their state constitutions to remove language that allows slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishment. In 2018, Colorado was among the first states to do so.