Colorado Rights Blog

ACLU of Colorado By: ACLU of Colorado 10.11.2016

Take Out Slavery – Vote YES on Amendment T

Did you know that the Colorado Constitution still allows legal slavery, and that Coloradans can do something about it this fall?

Colorado’s language parallels an exception written into the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, banning slavery and involuntary servitude “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

When a group of faith and community leaders began a campaign last spring to eliminate the exception allowing slavery, many legislators were surprised to learn that, even though Colorado was never a slave state, we still have language allowing slavery — as a punishment for crime.

That archaic federal exception, part of the difficult battle to get the 13th Amendment passed, has largely been ignored. The 13th Amendment has normally been treated and thought of as a total ban on legal slavery. Some states do have a total ban on slavery with no exception, some have no language related to the 13th Amendment at all, and about half the states, including Colorado, have similar language leaving an exception to the ban on slavery.

As Coloradans, we can’t change the federal language, but we can be one of the states that declares it will not allow slavery in any situation by voting Yes on Amendment T. The Colorado legislature voted unanimously, including every Republican and every Democrat in both houses, to place Amendment T on the ballot in November.

A Yes on T vote will remove the exception language in the Colorado Constitution to our state ban on slavery and involuntary servitude, as the 13th Amendment itself should have done from the beginning.

It is fair to ask what Amendment T will accomplish, although it is a statement worth making even if it has no practical effect. States have a variety of language around slavery and involuntary servitude, and all states have similar criminal justice systems with work programs and community service programs, so there is no reason to believe Amendment T would affect those programs. Courts have defined slavery and involuntary servitude narrowly enough that typical work programs or community service would not fall under those definitions.

Technically, however, it would not be unconstitutional for the State of Colorado to sell people into slavery or involuntary servitude as long as it was deemed a punishment for crime—and that would be simply wrong. Even if that has never happened and even if we believe it never would, it shouldn’t even be possible under our Constitution. If any practices of a state actually met the definitions of slavery or involuntary servitude, they probably shouldn’t be allowed in any case. Whatever our criminal justice system may be, it shouldn’t be slavery.

So Amendment T is a genuine protection for the future, and in a time of widespread racial tensions, it is a strong and positive signal of good will today. Words matter. We weren’t around to take part in the abolition of slavery after the Civil War, but Amendment T gives us an opportunity to finish that abolition today, at least for Colorado. Slavery in any circumstance is immoral, and it is not a Colorado value.

The ACLU of Colorado urges you to follow the example of the entire Colorado legislature and vote Yes on Amendment T.



  • Cedric Watkins is a father, uncle, entrepreneur-in-training, and a vital community pillar for many others. While behind bars, he has tirelessly devoted himself to serving his peers and his community. He developed gang disaffiliation programs for other incarcerated individuals and is currently involved with Defy Ventures. He sends letters and calls his daughter as much as he can.

    Cedric is currently in prison at Sterling Correctional Facility. He was convicted of aggravated robbery, burglary, kidnapping, theft and sentenced to 80 years; no one was seriously injured or killed. For comparison, a person convicted of second-degree murder in Colorado faces a maximum sentence of 48 years. Cedric has already served 20 years and has fully rehabilitated during that time.

    It’s time to bring Cedric home: Redemption is real. Clemency is compassion.

  • On November 21, 2016, 13 Aurora police officers responded to a simple noise complaint at Alberto Torres’s home. As happens all too often, Aurora police officers escalated this minor issue into a brutal affair. They beat Mr. Torres solely because he delayed exiting his garage to ask his wife to interpret for him. With that beating, the lives of Mr. Torres and every member of his family were changed and he has yet to recover. ACLU of Colorado fought to obtain justice for Mr. Torres, and Aurora has now paid him $285,000. But money is not justice, and the brutality of the Aurora Police Department against people of color has continued unabated.

    It doesn’t have to be this way.

    Imagine, if instead of 13 officers being dispatched to Mr. Torres’s home for a noise complaint, the City of Aurora sent a civilian-led response team to check on his welfare and ask that he and his friends lower their sound, resulting in a non-violent solution to a minor issue?

    ACLU Settles Case With Aurora After Police Brutalize and Unlawfully Arrest Alberto Torres

  • Hope is a discipline. It’s a commitment that together, we can create a more perfect union. We won’t rest until we fulfill the promise of equal rights for ALL people in the United States.

    Join us in our fight to fulfill this promise and move forward with hope by donating to the ACLU of Colorado. Your donation supports the ACLU’s strengths that make our work effective and collaborative.

    Donate now at

  • Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.

    In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.

    Read more about Anthony Martinez and other at-risk incarcerated people.