National lawmakers introduced a joint resolution Wednesday aimed at striking language from the U.S. Constitution that enshrines a form of slavery in America’s foundational documents.
The resolution, spearheaded and supported by Democratic members of the House and Senate, would amend the 13th Amendment’s ban on chattel enslavement to expressly prohibit involuntary servitude as a punishment for crime. As ratified, the original amendment has permitted exploitation of labor by convicted felons for over 155 years since the abolition of slavery.
The 13th Amendment “continued the process of a white power class gravely mistreating Black Americans, creating generations of poverty, the breakup of families and this wave of mass incarceration that we still wrestle with today,” Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon told The Associated Press ahead of the resolution’s introduction.
A House version is led by outgoing Rep. William Lacy Clay, of St. Louis, who said the amendment “seeks to finish the job that President (Abraham) Lincoln started.”
It would “eliminate the dehumanizing and discriminatory forced labor of prisoners for profit that has been used to drive the over-incarceration of African Americans since the end of the Civil War,” Clay said.
In the Senate, the resolution has Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland signed on as co-sponsors. “This change to the 13th Amendment will finally, fully rid our nation of a form of legalized slavery,” Van Hollen said in an emailed statement.
Constitutional amendments are rare and require approval by two-thirds of the House and Senate, as well as ratification by three-quarters of state legislatures.
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