Colorado voters to consider banning slavery

STACY M. BROWN | 11/5/2018, 5:17 a.m.
Freedom is on the ballot in Colorado this November.
Colorado State Capitol – Photo courtesy of the state of Colorado

(NNPA) – Freedom is on the ballot in Colorado this November.

Voters in the Centennial State must decide on changing the language in the state’s constitution so that it no longer allows slavery as a form of punishment.

Over 15 state constitutions in the United States permit slavery as a way of legal punishment for those who’ve committed a crime, despite the 13th Amendment being ratified in 1865.

The unclear wording in Colorado’s constitution means “slavery and involuntary servitude may not be fully unconstitutional,” according to Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, the state’s ACLU chapter executive director, via the Atlanta Black Star.

Article II, Section 26 of Colorado’s constitution reads that there “shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

However, voters will be given an opportunity to change the language of the state’s constitution so that slavery is no longer allowed as punishment.

A similar measure failed in Colorado two years ago.

Residents will be given two options: to keep Article II Section 26 of the state’s constitution or choose Amendment A, which will change the diction to “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude.”

Jumoke Emery of Abolish Slavery Colorado told CNN that voters almost got the amendment to pass two years ago, but blamed the legislators’ terminology for the outcome of the vote.

“I hope that this puts forth the message that our past doesn’t have to be our future that by and large we as Americans are interested in fixing our mistakes and that there’s hope for our future,” Emery told the news outlet.

Those who are against amending the constitution say it’s not necessary because Colorado already bans slavery. They also argue that certain prisoner programs could be affected.

When most Americans learn about the 13th Amendment in high school, the teacher will cursorily remark that “The 13th Amendment ended slavery in the United States,” and move on to the 14th Amendment, Randal John Meyer, a legal associate in the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies, wrote in an editorial.

“This oversimplification is a fiction. Slavery is still legal in the United States, so long as it is pursuant to a criminal conviction and if it is limited to compulsory uncompensated labor – and indeed that is precisely the system America maintains today,” Meyer said.

The 13th Amendment, as enacted, reads: “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.”

Meyer argued that slavery is neither a cruel nor an unusual punishment according to the supreme law of the land, nor historically has it been considered that.

In the 1700s and early 1800s, Americans viewed compulsory labor as a way to fight vagrancy and to rehabilitate such idleness, he said.

However, the states began to understand the potential for revenue generation from prisons in the 1800s – compulsory labor and the sale of prison products became a means to offset state costs.