involuntary servitude and unconscious self-contradiction

Jonah Goldberg today provides further proof of Jack Balkin’s thesis that all so-called constitutional originalists are de facto living constitutionalists.

Goldberg is writing against Obama (and to a lesser degree) McCain’s programs for national service. He argues this conflicts with the 13 Amendment which states:

“”Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime … shall exist within the United States.”

Now there are a good deal of legitimate arguments against national service, one of which Goldberg elsewhere (in a more sane rift) points out: namely the notion of forced volunteerism is an oxymoron and defeats the whole purpose of volunteer activity. There are legitimate concerns about the practicality, cost, and effectiveness of such programs.

[As a sidenote, that’s why better than compulsory service, I think a very healthy package of inducements in terms of loan repayment, job opportunities post volunteer etc is a much better way to go.]

However if Goldberg et. al are going to make the argument against national service based on Amendment 13 then they have abandoned all pretense to original public meaning of the Amendment at its time of passage as the hermeneutical key to application of the statue.

Because I’m doubting that at the time of the Amendment’s passage (1865) that involuntary servitude meant teaching poor kids time tables, bringing lunch to folks in retirement facilities, or raking leaves in the local park.

This would be quite the case of “evolving standards” of interpretation and understanding no?

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Published in: on July 8, 2008 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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