Did Colorado Nullify Part of the Thirteenth Amendment?

A funny thing happened in the midterm elections on Tuesday: citizens of Colorado voted by a large margin to amend their state constitution to abolish unpaid prison labor, and I applaud them for it. However, there’s one problem: This runs counter to the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Colorado voters changed the wording of their constitution from “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” (which reflects the Thirteenth Amendment) to “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude.”

Doesn’t this create an obvious conflict between the Colorado State Constitution and the Federal Constitution? Can a state nullify parts of the U.S. Constitution by simply removing them? Or is there some leeway (rights can be added but not taken away, for example)?

Doesn’t this violate the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2), establishing that the Constitution, and federal laws made pursuant to it, make up the supreme law of the land?

Let’s say voters in a state amended their state constitution to prohibit women from voting, for example, which runs counter to the Nineteenth Amendment. They clearly can’t do that—right? So how can Colorado effectively repeal part of the Thirteenth Amendment?

I’m hoping someone with a better grasp of Constitutional law can explain this to me. Again, I agree with abolishing this Constitutional caveat, but I’m not sure how a state can unilaterally do something like that.

Two Takeaways from the 2018 Midterm Elections

As the dust settles on the 2018 Midterm Elections, I noticed two interesting things that raise questions about what we’ve come to take for granted in politics.

1) That protest movements achieve something. When I was younger, I used to love a good protest. Fondly recalling their own “Days of Rage” in the 1960s and ’70s, university professors in particular have encouraged campus activism, which in turn spread elsewhere. It makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself—a grand statement that you will not sit idly by and allow something outrageous to continue.

But do they actually work here in the United States, especially when the only outrage is over losing an election? In 2010 Scott Walker, a Republican, was elected governor of Wisconsin. Wisconsin, like Illinois, is divided between large cities, which tend to be very liberal, and geographically large but underpopulated rural areas, which tend to be very conservative. Governor Walker did as promised and limited the collective bargaining powers of Wisconsin public employees. The left lost its mind.

Massive protests erupted in the state capitol, Madison. I was there, on March 12, 2011 (see picture above). Thousands of angry people stood in the cold screaming and holding signs and walking around in a circle. They launched a recall effort in 2012, which ultimately failed when Walker won again. Now, six years later, Governor Walker was removed from office not by hand-wringing and carrying on, but at the ballot box when Democrats ran an appealing candidate with a message that resonated with voters.


My thoughts on the 2018 Midterms

With the 2018 midterm elections mercifully over, I hope to return to being able to read the news without screaming internally and fantasizing about throwing my computer monitor out the window (don’t worry, baby, you know I can’t live without you).

It turns out the much-hyped “blue wave” was more like a trickle, but it was enough to put Democrats over the top in the US House of Representatives. Two years of nonstop wall-to-wall negative coverage of President Trump wasn’t enough to produce the same kind of earthshaking victory like the historic Republican 63-seat win in 2010.

This was mostly because the economy is doing so well. Republicans shot themselves in the foot by not making this election all about the economy. All the party in power has to do is explain why they deserve to stay in power, and Republicans are terrible at doing that. All Democrats had was a referendum on Trump’s personality.

If the economy was in the dumpster I think the Democratic message would’ve resonated a lot more, but because growth is booming and unemployment is at historic lows there’s not a compelling need for change. Republicans could’ve easily walked to victory by avoiding controversy and staying on message. With Trump at the helm, that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.