The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Section 2 of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: “Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” This provision gives Congress the responsibility of enforcing it and carrying out its principles.
W. Cleon Skousen explained, “Under this amendment Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of March 1, 1875. The part of this act which allowed the federal government to take action against `individuals’ who were guilty of discrimination against Negroes was held unconstitutional on the ground that the Thirteenth Amendment gives the federal government power to regulate only states and not individuals. The court said that provisions of this kind came within the police power of the state. However, beginning with a series of civil rights acts in 1963, the jurisdiction of the federal government was broadly expanded to enforce civil rights along practically every dimension of American life. The new acts , with Supreme Court support, overturned the ruling of 1875 and allowed the federal courts to enforce their decrees against individuals, schools, labor unions, restaurants, hotels, major industries, and other enterprises, both public and private.” (See The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, p. 721.)
Herman Belz of The Heritage Foundation explained, “By conferring power on Congress to enforce the prohibition of slavery throughout the United States, the Thirteenth Amendment altered the relationship between the states and the federal government. State power to recognize or establish slavery as a legal institution was withdrawn; to that extent, at least, state authority to regulate the personal liberty and civil rights of individuals within their jurisdiction was restricted beyond the limits imposed by the original Constitution. Unlike most other parts of the Constitution, which are designed only to limit governmental action, enforcement of the Thirteenth amendment is not limited by the requirement that it apply only to actions by states or state officials. The amendment establishes a rule of action for private individuals as well as for state governments. In the language of constitutional law, enforcement of the amendment is not limited by the requirement that the amendment’s prohibitions apply only to state action. The U.S. Constitution, for the most part, does not apply to individuals except when they act under color of law (e.g., the policeman who searches your house). The Thirteenth Amendment is different because it applies to private individuals acting in their private capacities. A person violates the Thirteenth Amendment if he keeps a slave. Where the fundamental right of personal liberty is concerned, the distinction between public and private spheres, which otherwise serves as a limitation on government power in the United States, is not recognized under the Thirteenth Amendment.” (See The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, p. 381.)