Colorado Could Become First State To Completely Abolish Slavery

Kanye West just made news with his hard-to-follow tweets on the 13th amendment. Meanwhile, Colorado is focused on possibly changing a state version of this centuries-old law.

Colorado’s version mirrors the one in the U.S. Constitution, as do several other states, including Utah. The amendment prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude except as a punishment for a convicted crime.

But a Colorado initiative this November would make it the first state to remove that exception. According to a video on the Amendment A website, “Amendment A changes it to say, 'There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude. Period.’”

Richard Collins, a constitutional law professor at University of Colorado Boulder, said it’s unclear whether this amendment would be symbolic or have real consequences. Opponents are worried that it could interfere with prison labor for things like fighting wildfires. Either way, Collins said, the amendment’s passage could affect the rest of the country.  

“I suppose that if Colorado passes this,” he said, “there will be similar efforts in other states.”

This same amendment went before Colorado voters in 2016 and failed.

The state constitutions for Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana do not contain specific language about slavery.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.