chapter  5
30 Pages

Radical abolitionist constitutionalism

ByBharat Malkani

A radical abolitionist constitutionalism involves invoking the idea of dignity, and encouraging a jurisprudence that can be used to tackle broader social injustices. A feature of what historian William Wiecek describes as "radical anti-slavery constitutionalism" was its appeal to a "higher law" when countering the claim that the text of the Constitution expressly permitted slavery. In Wiecek's words, the radical constitutionalists "were the antebellum era's leading exponents of a theory of natural-law limitations on governmental power". In his study of anti-slavery constitutionalism, William Wiecek identifies three types of constitutional attacks on slavery: Garrisonian, moderate, and radical. In terms of the constitutional strategy, the anti-death penalty movement faces the same challenges that were faced by the antebellum abolitionists: the text of the US Constitution appears to contemplate the legality of the practice in question, thus foreclosing any argument that the practice is unconstitutional.