We've been discussing for weeks (months, actually) on The BradCast how critical the November 8 midterm elections are to American democracy itself. I've even referred to it as the most critical midterms since the Civil War. Until recently, however, I had no idea how on the money that comparison actually is. [Audio link to full show follows this summary.]
In five states this year --- from so-called "red" states like Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee to the theoretically liberal bastions of Oregon and Vermont --- slavery itself will be on the ballot. Seriously. Or, at least "involuntary servitude". What's the difference between that and slavery? Even our guest today, an expert on such issues, has trouble discerning that.
The U.S. Constitution's 13th Amendment, adopted in 1865 to end slavery, reads [emphasis added]: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
In other words, slavery was abolished --- except for prisoners, who may be forced into involuntary servitude as part of their punishment. It's a not-accidental loophole, you'll be shocked to learn, that has been disproportionately exercised historically against Black Americans.
In 2020, however, several Democratic members of Congress introduced a resolution to begin amending that part of the 13th Amendment. But changing the U.S. Constitution is a heavy lift that requires passage by two-thirds of each chamber of Congress and approval by three-fourths of the states. In the meantime, there are the exact same or very similar references to involuntary servitude --- or even slavery itself --- still present in a number of state Constitutions and/or statutes. And, this year, there are ballot initiatives in the five states mentioned above to finally change or remove those references entirely.
So, yeah. Ending slavery, at least in some state constitutions, at least for prisoners, is actually on this year's ballot as well.
We're joined today for insight by THEEDA MURPHY, Co-Director of the No Exceptions Prison Collective, a non-profit, grassroots initiative based in Nashville, TN, dedicated to, among other things, aboloshing slavery!
"Any type of forced labor is slavery. Period. And should not exist in the United States in 2022," Murphy explains, stating what one would think should be obvious. Surprisingly, it isn't. There are elected officials --- both Democratic and Republican --- who have offered various reasons to oppose such initiatives to rewrite the 13th Amendment and the state-based provisions which echo it. Most of their reasons have to do with assuring that cheap prison labor can continue, a $500 billion industry where the average pay is $1/hour. (Though that is, somehow, not considered slavery!)
Over the past two elections, in 2018 and 2020, three states, Colorado, Nebraska and Utah, adopted measures to ban involuntary servitude. A recent effort here in California failed to make it onto the ballot this year. But the hope of advocates like Murphy is that, with reform at the state level, interest may grow in a federal Constitutional amendment that finally ends what is known as the "Punishment Clause" or the "Exception Clause'. But there are other reasons to adopt such measures as well.
States where similar changes have been made, explains Murphy, "are beginning to have these discussions about what does it mean to now have people that cannot be treated like property, that the state no longer owns, and what that means for every aspect of a person who is incarcerated. Can you deny them healthcare? What kind of food do you feed them? Do you charge them for their clothes? Those are the kinds of questions that begin to be answered, or to be asked, because people are no longer property."
Murphy says that in her home-state of Tennessee, internal polling shows both Democrats and Republicans are "united" on the ballot measure this year. "Nobody is FOR slavery," she quips. "Nobody at least will come out and SAY they're for it."
Hey! Maybe we found at least one issue that doesn't divide Americans? We'll find out after next Tuesday.
In other noteworthy news today...
- After nearly four years of House Democrats attempting to exercise the federal law that mandates the IRS "shall furnish" the tax returns of any taxpayer to the heads of several Congressional committees upon request, Donald Trump is running out of legal (and illegal) options to block the Democratic-controlled House Ways and Means Committee from reviewing his tax documents. But, after the federal appeals court in D.C. unanimously said last week that the IRS must turn them over, Trump filed an emergency appeal to his stolen, packed and corrupted Supreme Court. Today, Chief Justice John Roberts placed a temporary administrative hold on the lower court's order, buying Trump at least 10 days while the House responds to the disgraced former President's motion. But now, every day counts, with the possibility of Democrats losing their majority at the beginning of next year, when Republicans will almost certainly drop the House request. The clock is ticking.
- In somewhat brighter related news, after a similar administrative hold by the corrupt Justice Clarence Thomas last week, the Supremes have decided that Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) must sit for a deposition with the Special Grand Jury created by Fulton County, Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis, in her investigation of the Trump-led conspiracy to steal the 2020 election in the Peach State. SCOTUS, however, has left open some doors for Graham to return to district court if he believes any of the questions he's asked violate his right to not answer questions related to his legislative activity as a Senator under the Constitution's Speech and Debate Clause.
- Finally, Desi Doyen joins us for our latest Green News Report, with a bit of bona fide good news --- in several different stories, in fact --- to wrap up today's program...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)