Lawmakers Use Juneteenth As A Platform To Close the Constitution's Slavery loophole

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Natasha Cloud marches to the MLK Memorial to support Black Lives Matter and to mark the liberation of slavery on June 19, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Natasha Cloud marches to the MLK Memorial to support Black Lives Matter and to mark the liberation of slavery on June 19, 2020, in Washington, DC.

Congressional leaders like Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) utilized the Juneteeth holiday weekend to call for an expansion of 13th amendment protections or otherwise known as the Abolition Amendment, The Hill reports. Some argue that federal action is needed to help incarcerated workers forced into jobs that provide little pay.

The 13th Amendment ratified in 1865 abolished slavery as punishment for crime. A recent ACLU study in conjunction with the Global Human Rights Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School found that the minimum wage for prisoners is 52 cents an hour or less. Despite how little they make, the ACLU also noted that imprisoned workers generate “least $2 billion in goods and 9 billion dollars in prison maintenance services a year.”

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From The Hill:

“I’m bold enough to think that I can change the Constitution, and I know that there’s a national, bipartisan, multiracial movement to get it done. Let’s #EndTheException in the 13th Amendment,” Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) wrote on Twitter on Monday.

In N.Y., prison inmates who bottled hand sanitizer by hand earned wages that started at $0.16 per hour. As PrisonPolicy points out, “saving up for a $10 phone card would take almost two weeks for an incarcerated person working in a Pennsylvania prison.” Many are calling on Congress to act to extend the protections that the 13th provides. “Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, but that recognition cannot be a placeholder for action,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) wrote on Twitter. Merkley also went on to provide additional thoughts.

“We must recognize the lasting impact of slavery and that justice and freedom are still too often denied to Black Americans, and recommit to building a more just country that allows for slavery as punishment for a crime,” Merkley wrote. “This clause has fueled re-enslavement and mass incarceration for generations, and must be removed.”