Apparently, not all judges along I-95 are lost. The Third Circuit decided today Burrell v. Staff. The plaintiffs argued that the labor law violations constituted involuntary servitude, in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. The majority opinion rejected those claims in light of modern precedent.
From Thank you we derive the principle that the use of an otherwise legal 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 sanctions necessary to establish a Thirteenth Amendment violation. Here, limiting access to the layoff program and threatening plaintiffs with serving their entire otherwise statutory sentence for noncompliance is akin to threats of deportation to Thank you. Because plaintiffs fail to sufficiently 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.
Justice Matey agreed and included a lengthy note regarding the original meaning of the Thirteenth Amendment.
After a heinous chapter in our nation’s history, the Thirteenth Amendment affirmed the natural rights of all persons through “the 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 among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'” Jacobus tenBroek, The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution: The Completion of Repeal 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 restated the natural law underpinning our Constitution, making slavery irreconcilable “with the fundamental principles upon which our government rests.” Joel Tiffany, Debate on the Unconstitutionality of American Slavery (1849), reprinted in 2 Reconstruction Amendments: Basic Documents 237, 237–38 (Kurt T. Lash ed., 2021) (“All men possess the same natural rights, secured by the same natural guarantees—under the same ownership—their title is derived from the same source. . . . . Deny these truths and you will destroy the foundations on which society is based. Violate them and you are at war with yourself, with Man and God.”). The amendment, rooted in “our ancient faith [that] the just powers of governments derive from the consent of the governed,” admitted that the existence of slavery “is a complete violation of this principle… . . [of] self-government.” Abraham Lincoln, Speech in Peoria, Illinois (October 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 people are born free and equal, but man is not right of ownership in man. . . . [F]or freedom is the natural right of every man, and slavery is a limitation by positive law.” Slavery and the coming administration, in 2 Brownson’s Quarterly Review 65, 109 (1857). See also Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 US (19 So.) 393, 624 (1857) (Curtis, J., dissenting) (“Slavery, being contrary to natural law, arises only by municipal law.”). The Thirteenth Amendment codified the truth that slavery could be treated as constitutional “only by disregarding the plain and common sense interpretation of the Constitution itself.” Frederick Douglass, The United States Constitution: Pro-Slavery or Anti-Slavery? (1860), reprinted in 2 Amendments for reconstruction: Basic documents 303, 308. See also Peter C. Myers, A Time to Sow and a Time to Reap: Natural Law and Rational Hope in Frederick Douglass Life and Times, 99 J. Afr. Am. Pov. 56 (2014), reprinted in A Political Companion to Frederick Douglass 285, 287 (Neil Roberts ed., 2018) (“Douglass frequently invoked the law of nature both because he was convinced of its profound truth and also because of its utility in various practical applications.”).
Matey concluded that the plaintiffs’ constitutional claims were without merit.
None of plaintiffs’ contentions indicate a violation of the natural principles protected in the Restoration Amendments, nor can the nature of their work come close atrocities that the Thirteenth Amendment protects against. To call what amounts to a wage and hour dispute a violation of these laws would be an extraordinary departure from the original meaning of amendment i disrespecting that historic achievement.
DOJ, take note of your report.