Amendment 3 would eliminate exception to Tennessee slavery ban

Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, speaks during a debate on school voucher legislation in 2019 in Nashville. She sponsored Amendment 3 in the legislature. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Constitution has a provision dating back to 1870 that prohibits enslavement and involuntary servitude, but the section provides an exception when it comes to punishments for a crime.

Critics say the 152-year-old law needs to change -- that there should be no exceptions to a prohibition on slavery.

And come Nov. 8 election, Tennessee voters will decide on Amendment 3, which would replace the provision with new language in a bipartisan effort led by, among others, former U.S. Bob Corker, a Chattanooga Republican, with Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly supporting the change as well.

At issue is the Tennessee Constitution's Article 1, Section 33 Declaration of Rights.

"Slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, are forever prohibited in this state," it states.