This Day in Legal History: The Ratification of the 13th Amendment
December 6th marks a pivotal moment in American legal and social history with the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865. This landmark amendment, which officially abolished slavery in the United States, represented the culmination of a long and tumultuous struggle against the institution of slavery and set the stage for a new era in American society.
The journey to this historic day began earnestly during the Civil War, as President Abraham Lincoln sought ways to legally dismantle the deeply entrenched system of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was a critical step, declaring the freedom of slaves in Confederate states. However, it was the 13th Amendment that provided a permanent and comprehensive legal solution, ensuring that slavery would be outlawed across the entire nation.
The amendment's concise yet powerful language — "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction" — was a clear and unequivocal repudiation of slavery.
The ratification process was not without its challenges. After passing the Senate and House in early 1865, the amendment faced the daunting task of gaining approval from three-fourths of the states. The assassination of President Lincoln in April of that year added to the uncertainty surrounding its ratification.
Despite these obstacles, the necessary number of states ratified the amendment by December 6, 1865, with Georgia's approval providing the decisive vote. This act was a testament to the changing attitudes in a nation that had been deeply divided over the issue of slavery.
The 13th Amendment's ratification was a major legal victory for human rights and equality. It not only liberated four million enslaved individuals but also laid the groundwork for future civil rights advancements, including the 14th and 15th Amendments. Its impact went beyond the legal realm, ushering in profound social and cultural shifts.
As we commemorate this significant day in legal history, it is important to reflect on the ongoing journey towards equality and justice. The 13th Amendment stands as a reminder of the enduring power of legal change to reshape society and the continuous need to strive for a more equitable world.
A lawsuit filed by Americans for Fair Treatment (AFT) against three New York City pension plans is poised to influence the role of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) considerations in workplace 401(k)s. This case, resulting from the pension plans' 2021 decision to divest over $4 billion from fossil fuel companies, is being closely watched as it may set a precedent for private-sector litigation under similar federal laws. The lawsuit alleges this decision violated state laws governing fiduciary conduct, with AFT claiming financial risk-return factors were ignored for a political agenda.
The divestment, initially pledged by then-Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2018, was executed in 2021 by the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, the Teachers’ Retirement System of New York City, and the New York City Board of Education Retirement System. Post-divestment, the assets reportedly lost 35% of their value, despite a broader market recovery.
The case is seen as a test of a Republican-led legal theory that opposes ESG considerations in public funds and 401(k)s, arguing for investment decisions based solely on financial merits. It also intersects with a U.S. Labor Department rule under the Biden administration that permits private-sector pensions to consider ESG impacts when materially relevant to a fiduciary’s risk-return analysis. This has sparked debates in Congress and legal challenges, questioning the extent to which ESG factors should influence investment decisions in retirement plans.
The University of Pennsylvania is facing a lawsuit filed by two students alleging that the university condones antisemitism on campus. This lawsuit, which claims violations of federal civil rights law, follows similar legal actions against New York University and the University of California at Berkeley. The plaintiffs accuse Penn of failing to protect Jewish students from harassment, hiring "rabidly antisemitic professors," and ignoring pleas for protection.
The complaint intensifies the issue by citing a recent incident where an "antisemitic student mob" allegedly vandalized campus buildings with hostile slogans. This situation reportedly escalated following actions by Hamas, which the US and European Union designate as a terrorist group. The complaint highlights the significant number of deaths in both Israel and Gaza due to the conflict.
Penn's response to these incidents is under scrutiny. During a congressional hearing, Penn President Liz Magill emphasized the university's commitment to academic freedom and free speech, while also maintaining a stance against violence and incitement. However, the university has not commented on the pending litigation.
The lawsuit, filed under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, seeks significant measures, including the termination of faculty and administrators deemed responsible for the alleged antisemitism and the suspension or expulsion of involved students. This case has broader implications, as the US Education Department investigates possible discrimination at several universities, including Penn, Harvard, and MIT. The issue of antisemitism on college campuses is receiving national attention, with university leaders and donors expressing concerns over the climate and policies regarding this matter.
The California Privacy Protection Agency is considering new regulations that would impact the state's substantial insurance industry, valued at over $123 billion. This initiative marks the first time the agency is focusing on the insurance sector, especially in light of growing scrutiny over how insurers use AI and personal data. The California Privacy Rights Act of 2020 mandates the agency to align its rulemaking with the state's insurance code and privacy statutes, aiming to adopt the strongest possible consumer protections.
The potential regulations are drawing attention from insurance companies, particularly regarding the use of personal data for determining premiums and other costs. One area of significant consumer advocacy in California involves preventing auto insurers from using data from connected cars. The agency must navigate complex terrain, balancing new regulations with existing state laws like the Insurance Information and Privacy Protection Act and coordinating with the California Department of Insurance.
Additionally, the agency is set to establish a registration fee for data brokers under California's new data broker law, the Delete Act. This law requires the creation of a "delete button" for consumers to erase their data from registered data brokers. The agency is also considering updates to its first set of CPRA regulations, including changes that would allow consumers to request all personal information beyond the past 12 months and to withdraw consent for the use of personal data at any time.
A lawsuit in Colorado, led by a group of voters and supported by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, seeks to disqualify former President Donald Trump from the state's ballot for his alleged role in the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack. This case, which is going before the Colorado Supreme Court, hinges on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This provision bars public officials from holding federal office if they have participated in an insurrection.
That section, written with an eye towards former high ranking officials in the Confederate States of America that might seek high office in the union, reads:
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
The lawsuit is seen as a critical test case for challenging Trump's eligibility for the 2024 presidency under this constitutional amendment. A lower court previously ruled that Trump, as then-president, engaged in insurrection but allowed him to remain on the Colorado Republican primary ballot. The court reasoned that as president, Trump did not qualify as "an officer of the United States" under the amendment's terms.
The plaintiffs' lawyers argue that this interpretation defies logic, as it would exempt the presidency, the most powerful office, from the amendment's restrictions. Trump's legal team disputes the insurrection allegation and asserts that courts lack the authority to bar candidates from ballots under this constitutional provision. The Colorado Supreme Court's decision can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, adding to the significance of this case.