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Delaware Senate Democrats

Equal Rights amendment to the Delaware Constitution passes state Senate

June 16, 2020

The Delaware State Senate today overwhelmingly passed the first bill in the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus’s Justice For All Agenda.

Approved by a unanimous vote, Senate Bill 191 represents the first leg of an amendment to the state Constitution that would explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin.

“Dismantling systemic racism in Delaware must begin with our founding document from which all other laws in our state are derived,” said Senator Darius Brown, chairman of the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus and the prime sponsor of SB 191.

“Once this process is complete, our Constitution will state clearly, once and for all, that all people – no matter their skin color and no matter their backgrounds – are guaranteed the basic rights and dignity that have been promised to us for generations,” said Brown, the second Black man elected to the Delaware Senate. “America’s original sin can only be addressed through acts of social justice and this is only the first step in the long road to redemption that lays ahead.”

SB 191 specifically seeks to add race, color and national origin to the equal rights section of Delaware’s Constitution first created by the 150th General Assembly in January 2019.

Equal protections under the law are already guaranteed in Delaware under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but their absence from the state Constitution remains a glaring omission, particularly given the First State’s marred history on the issue.

While the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawed slavery, the 14th Amendment guaranteed all people – including former slaves – equal protection and due process under the law.

Delaware, however, rejected the 14th Amendment in 1867, just as it had to the 13th Amendment two years prior. Delaware also rejected the 15th Amendment two years later.

It wasn’t until 1901 that Delaware finally ratified all three Reconstruction Amendments– more than 30 years after they had become the law throughout the United States.

Today, Delaware and more than 30 other states still lack provisions in their own constitutions that prohibit the denial or abridgement of equal rights under law on the basis of race, color or national origin.

“As a lifelong Delawarean, I have a great understanding of the history of our state,” said Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker, D-Wilmington, the lead House sponsor of SB 191. “We are now one step closer to inclusion for Blacks in seeking Justice For All. I am proud to serve at a time when we can make the changes, about which our ancestors dreamed.”

Introduced by Senator Brown during Black History Month in February, SB 191 began the day with 20 co-sponsors in the Senate and the House, including both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

“With today’s bipartisan passage of Senate Bill 191, the members of this body made a clear constitutional commitment to enhancing and expanding equality of rights to all Delawareans regardless of race, color or national origin,” said co-prime sponsor Senator Ernesto B. Lopez, R-Lewes. “This vote reflects a call to action, which we have heard across our state and around our nation, as we listen with humility and work together to achieve the more perfect union this generation demands and future generations of Delawareans deserve.”

SB 191 now heads to the House for final consideration. Proposed amendments to the Delaware Constitution must be passed by two consecutive General Assemblies – and two-thirds of the members in each chamber – before becoming law.

Additional legislation proposed by the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus as part of its Justice For All Agenda is expected to be introduced at a later date. Those proposals will include

  • Banning knee holds, choke holds and similar acts of applying force or pressure against the trachea, windpipe, carotid artery or jugular vein unless deadly force is necessary;
  • Requiring that body camera devices be used by all law enforcement agencies in Delaware and mandating that those devices be activated from the beginning to the end of all interactions with suspects or witnesses;
  • Prohibiting Delaware law enforcement agencies from releasing mug shots or other photographs of juvenile defendants;
  • Requiring that all Delaware law enforcement agencies video record all interrogations of juvenile suspects and defendants except under certain circumstances;
  • Amending the Delaware Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights to allow criminal defendants’ legal counsel to receive internal affairs investigation records of law enforcement officers accused of wrongdoing;
  • Creating a Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force to develop additional police reforms and an African American Task Force to propose remedies to the disparities experienced by people of color throughout Delaware.