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Pamela Bridgewater Discusses Connection between 13th Amendment and Modern Legal Theory

March 23, 2012

American University Washington College of Law professor Pamela Bridgewater discussed how the constitutional history of the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution can inform modern legal theory at the law school on March 22. Bridgewater appeared as part of a course and lecture series on hip-hop and the American constitution launched by Professor Donald Tibbs.

Bridgewater discussed how the 13th amendment, which was intended to abolish slavery, can be compared to modern legal issues. Reproductive and sexual rights, for example, are some of the modern legal issues analogous to slavery, Bridgewater said. Bridgewater pointed to the history of slavery, which included slave breeding, reproductive coercion, rape and child abuse. Bridgewater argued that a slaveholder’s control of his slave’s body is similar to modern attempts to restrict contraception, abortion and various other reproductive rights. Thus, Bridgewater claimed, attempts to control reproductive rights are more than mere violations of privacy but actually tantamount to “incidents of slavery.” Bridgewater questioned whether the promise of the 13th Amendment is being fulfilled.

Bridgewater also pointed out that the 13th Amendment prohibits slavery “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” Bridgewater suggested that this language may account for the relatively high incidence of custodial rape of incarcerated individuals. Surprisingly, Bridgewater said, the primary perpetrators in custodial rape cases are women. The reason behind this statistic may be that a female officer at a male custodial prison finds herself in a gender non-conforming position and, thus, finds the need to be over sexualized, Bridgewater said. On the other hand, perhaps these female officers are merely acting upon the misogynistic view promoted by pop culture, particularly by some hip-hop artists, Bridgewater concluded.

In closing, Bridgewater urged students to strive to find their own connections between modern pop culture, constitutional history and modern legal theory as they enter the legal profession.