Thirteenth Amendment Optimism

Jamal Greene, Columbia Law School


Thirteenth Amendment optimism is the view that the Thirteenth Amendment may be used to reach doctrinal outcomes neither specifically intended by the amendment's drafters nor obvious to contemporary audiences. In prominent legal scholarship, Thirteenth Amendment optimism has supported constitutional rights to abortion and health care and constitutional powers to prohibit hate speech and domestic violence, among other things. This article examines the practical utility of Thirteenth Amendment optimism in the face of dim prospects for adoption by courts. I argue that Thirteenth Amendment optimism is most valuable, both historically and today, as a means of motivating the political process to protect affirmative constitutional rights.