Another judge in the Acela corridor took the Thirteenth Amendment seriously

Obviously, not all judges get lost along I-95. Third Circuit decision today Burrell v. Staff. Plaintiffs argued that violations of labor laws constituted involuntary servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. The majority opinion rejects this claim in light of modern precedent.

from Javala We hold that using an otherwise lawful process for a purpose for which it was not created or intended to be used is not, by itself, sufficient to constitute the threat of legal authorization required for a Thirteenth Amendment violation. Here, limiting access to work release programs and threatening plaintiffs with serving the full sentence of their otherwise lawful contempt amounts to a threat of deportation. Javala. Because plaintiffs do not adequately allege involuntary servitude, they fail to state a Thirteenth Amendment § 1983 claim upon which relief may be granted, and we will affirm the district court’s dismissal of those claims.

Judge Mate concurred, and included a lengthy footnote regarding the original meaning of the Thirteenth Amendment.

After a sordid chapter in our nation’s history, the Thirteenth Amendment “guaranteed the natural rights of all persons by a practical application of that self-evident truth, ‘that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. ; that its Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness within. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution: The End of Nullification and the Key to the Fourteenth Amendment, 39 Calif. L.Rev. 171, 178 (1951) (quoting Cong. Globe, 38th Cong., 2d Sess. 142 (1865) (statement of Rep. Godlove S. Orth).) The amendment reiterated the natural law that underpins our Constitution, declaring slavery to be “our government that made irreconcilable” depending on fundamental principles. Joel Tiffany, A Treatise on the Unconstitutionality of American Slavery (1849), Reprinted in 2 Reconstruction Amendments: Essential Documents 237, 237-38 (Kurt T. Lash ed., 2021) (“All men possess the same natural rights, secured by the same natural guarantees—held to the same tenure—their titles arising from the same source. . . . . [that] The just powers of governments derive from the consent of the governed,” recognized that the existence of slavery was “a complete violation of this principle. . . [of] Self Government.” Abraham Lincoln, Speech at Peoria, Illinois (Oct. 16, 1854), Reprinted in 2 The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln 247, 265–66 (Roy Basler ed., 1953). “According to the law of nature all men are born free and equal, and man is not Ownership rights In people. . . [F]or liberty is the natural right of every man, and slavery is abridgement by positive law.” Slavery and the incoming administration, inside 2 Brownson’s Quarterly Review 65, 109 (1857). See also Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 US (19 How.) 393, 624 (1857) (Curtis, J., dissenting) (“Slavery, contrary to natural right, is created only by municipal law.”). The Thirteenth Amendment codified the fact that slavery could be held constitutional “only in disregard of the plain and common sense reading of the Constitution.” Frederick Douglass, The United States Constitution: Is It Pro-Slavery or Anti-Slavery? (1860), Reprinted in 2 Restructuring Amendments: Required Documents 303, 308. see more Peter C. Myers, Seed-Time and Harvest-Time: Frederick Douglass’s Natural Law and Rational Optimism Life and Times, 99 J. Afr. I am a heist. 56 (2014), Reprinted in A Political Companion to Frederick Douglass 285, 287 (Neil Roberts ed., 2018) (“Douglas frequently invoked the law of nature both because of its deep truth and because of its utility in various practical applications.”).

Mayte concluded that plaintiffs’ constitutional claims lacked merit.

None of plaintiffs’ claims go to violations of natural rights protected by the Reconstruction Amendments, nor to the nature of their work practices. The Thirteenth Amendment protects against that cruelty. To call the amount of wage and hour disputes a violation of this Act would be the most significant departure from the original meaning of the amendment and Disrespectful to that historic achievement.

DOJ, take notes for your brief.