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It’s time to reform the 13th Amendment

I grant the challenge that not every citizen is fluent in constitutional law. Some people study ecology, medical biology, mechanics, physics, computers, etc. However, there is something of great concern to all U.S. citizens hidden within the Constitution. 

Have you read the 13th Amendment lately? It’s one of our most famous, post-Civil War additions to how our government functions. Section 1 states that “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.”

Now, it doesn’t take a genius of constitutional law to understand what’s being said here: any person who is a convicted inmate in the United States holds the potential to be enslaved.

This should be ethically alarming. What this implies is that although slavery was abolished in practice, it is still allowed in the constitution. Slavery was never truly abolished, but merely took a different legal form. This is presented when we look at Louisiana, which locks up every 1,094 people per 100,000. Regarded as the “prison capital of the world,” according to the Times Picayune, Louisiana is among a multitude of states that incarcerate more people than entire countries! Take a look for yourself how private companies make a profit off of prisoners. 

If we agree that slavery is an immoral and unethical course of action, then how can we stand by this legal allowance of slavery in our society? Even if these are individuals who have committed heinous crimes, do these actions merit this form of retaliatory injustice? 

I say this system is not right. 

You may be wondering, if it’s not right, then what is? Well, I would humbly yet audaciously suggest that we begin the process of amending our constitution to fully and completely mandate our government to abolish and prevent slavery in all forms everywhere. 

I hear your conditioned reaction. Such a process is difficult, daunting, and thus not worthwhile. This is not happening in Maine. I cannot convince you to show compassion and mercy to other people. I can only shed light on injustice and ask for you to. 

The process of amending the Constitution is simple and straightforward legally, yet admittedly still challenging. First, we must draft an agreeable amendment, then pass it in Congress, then ratify it through acceptance by three-fourths of the States. 

Again, I hear your concern. This sounds impossible in our age. We couldn’t possibly organize ourselves across political divides to achieve this. I ask you: What does this say about ourselves? I ask what possible reason is there to delay this? As a common maxim states, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Consider the fact that the last time a constitutional amendment was ratified was in 1990. That was within the lifetimes of many living people, including my parents and grandparents. Amending the constitution is not impossible and it is worthy of our energies. Consider that if we achieve this, what else is it that we could possibly achieve? Adding the Equal Rights Amendment, as was nearly achieved in the 1970s, or an amendment guaranteeing universal tax-funded healthcare are among the most modest proposals. 

It is imperative we once again consider ourselves abolitionists. Not only for our own careers, but for the sake of opportunity and choice as well. You don’t have to be a politician or a lawyer to participate in the abolitionist movement. You don’t even have to write anything. You just have to do what you can and what you must in your small corner of the world. By exercising our influence together, independently, we can achieve great cross-society, intersectional movements. The only imperative mission that I ask you to adopt is to do justice anywhere and everywhere and avoid injustice anywhere and everywhere. 

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