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Monday, June 19, 2023

The Thirteenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights

To mark Juneteenth, I thought I'd revisit a question posed in my book on the Bill of Rights. Why isn't the Thirteenth Amendment considered part of the national bill of rights?

The Thirteenth Amendment is part of many state bills of rights, which either repeat that text's language or something very similar. Likewise, the Philippines Bill of Rights enacted by Congress after the Spanish-American War included the language of the Thirteenth. Kepner v. United States confirmed this point, while adding that the Bill of Rights was "the first nine amendments to the Constitution of the United States," which is the only Supreme Court case that so defines them. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also includes a prohibition on slavery.

Of course, when I wrote the book five years ago there was no Juneteenth holiday. Commemorative events like that tend to elevate what they are celebrating. There was no national "Bill of Rights" day until 1941, and that holiday elevated the status of the first eight or ten amendments, as there still disagreement at that point about what the Bill of Rights was. There is an argument for expanding our idea of the national Bill of Rights, and the Thirteenth Amendment (along with the right to vote) should be high on that list. 

Posted by Gerard Magliocca on June 19, 2023 at 09:51 AM | Permalink


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