The Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36 (1873), was the first United States Supreme Court interpretation of the U.S. Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment which had recently been enacted. It was a pivotal case in early civil rights law and held that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the privileges or immunities of citizenship of the United States, not privileges and immunities of citizenship of a state. However, as the federal rights of citizenship were then few, such as the right to travel between states and to use navigable rivers; the amendment did not protect the far broader range of rights covered by state citizenship. In effect, the amendment was interpreted to convey limited protection pertinent to a small minority of rights.
|Argued January 11, 1872|
Reargued February 3–5, 1873
Decided April 14, 1873
|Full case name||
The Butchers' Benevolent Association of New Orleans v. The Crescent City Live-Stock Landing and Slaughter-House Company;|
Paul Esteben, L. Ruch, J. P. Rouede, W. Maylie, S. Firmberg, B. Beaubay, William Fagan, J. D. Broderick, N. Seibel, M. Lannes, J. Gitzinger, J. P. Aycock, D. Verges, The Live-Stock Dealers' and Butchers' Association of New Orleans, and Charles Cavaroc v. The State of Louisiana, ex rel. S. Belden, Attorney-General;
The Butchers' Benevolent Association of New Orleans v. The Crescent City Live-Stock Landing and Slaughter-House Company
|Citations||83 U.S. 36 (more)|
|Prior history||Error to the Supreme Court of Louisiana|
|The Fourteenth Amendment protects the privileges and immunities of citizenship of the United States, not privileges and immunities of citizenship of a state.|
|Majority||Miller, joined by Clifford, Strong, Hunt, Davis|
|Dissent||Field, joined by Chase, Swayne, Bradley|
|U.S. Const. Art. IV. sec. 2, 13th, 14th, 15th Amendments|
The decision consolidated three similar cases:
- The Butchers' Benevolent Association of New Orleans v. The Crescent City Live-Stock Landing and Slaughter-House Company
- Paul Esteben, L. Ruch, J. P. Rouede, W. Maylie, S. Firmberg, B. Beaubay, William Fagan, J. D. Broderick, N. Seibel, M. Lannes, J. Gitzinger, J. P. Aycock, D. Verges, The Live-Stock Dealers' and Butchers' Association of New Orleans, and Charles Cavaroc v. The State of Louisiana, ex rel. S. Belden, Attorney-General
- The Butchers' Benevolent Association of New Orleans v. The Crescent City Live-Stock Landing and Slaughter-House Company
One writer described New Orleans in the mid-nineteenth century as plagued by "intestines and portions of putrefied animal matter lodged [around the drinking pipes]" whenever the tide from the Mississippi River was low; the offal came from the city's slaughterhouses. A mile and a half upstream from the city, 1,000 butchers gutted more than 300,000 animals per year. Animal entrails (known as offal), dung, blood, and urine contaminated New Orleans's drinking water, which was implicated in cholera outbreaks among the population.
To try to control the problem, a New Orleans grand jury recommended that the slaughterhouses be moved south, but since many of the slaughterhouses were outside city limits, the grand jury's recommendations carried no weight. The city appealed to the state legislature. As a result, in 1869, the Louisiana legislature passed "An Act to Protect the Health of the City of New Orleans, to Locate the Stock Landings and Slaughter Houses, and to incorporate the Crescent City Livestock Landing and Slaughter-House Company," which allowed the city of New Orleans to create a corporation that centralized all slaughterhouse operations in the city. At the time, New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia had similar provisions to confine butchers to areas in order to keep offal from contaminating the water supply.
The legislature chartered a private corporation, the Crescent City Live-Stock Landing and Slaughter-House Company, to run a Grand Slaughterhouse at the southern part of the city, opposite the Mississippi River. Crescent City would not slaughter beef itself but act as a franchise corporation, by renting out space to other butchers in the city for a fee, under a designated maximum.
The statute also granted "sole and exclusive privilege of conducting and carrying on the livestock landing and slaughterhouse business within the limits and privilege granted by the act, and that all such animals shall be landed at the stock landings and slaughtered at the slaughterhouses of the company, and nowhere else. Penalties are enacted for infractions of this provision, and prices fixed for the maximum charges of the company for each steamboat and for each animal landed". The exclusivity would last for a period of 25 years. All other slaughterhouses would be closed up, forcing butchers to slaughter within the operation set up by Crescent City. The statute forbade Crescent City from favoring one butcher over another by promising harsh penalties for refusal to sell space to any butcher. All animals on the premises would be inspected by an officer appointed by the governor of the state.
Over 400 members of the Butchers' Benevolent Association joined together to sue to stop Crescent City's takeover of the slaughterhouse industry. In the background of his majority opinion, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Freeman Miller reiterated the concerns of the butchers:
This statute is denounced [by the butchers] not only as creating a monopoly and conferring odious and exclusive privileges upon a small number of persons at the expense of the great body of the community of New Orleans, but it is asserted that it deprives a large and meritorious class of citizens—the whole of the butchers of the city—of the right to exercise their trade, the business to which they have been trained and on which they depend for the support of themselves and their families, and that the unrestricted exercise of the business of butchering is necessary to the daily subsistence of the population of the city.
The lower courts had found in favor of Crescent City in all cases.
Six cases were appealed to the Supreme Court. The butchers based their claims on the due process, privileges or immunities, and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, which had been ratified by the states five years earlier. It had been passed with the intention of protecting the civil rights of the millions of newly emancipated freedmen in the South, who had been granted citizenship in the United States.
The butchers' attorney, former Supreme Court Justice John Archibald Campbell, who had retired from the federal bench because of his Confederate loyalties, represented persons in a number of cases in New Orleans to obstruct Radical Reconstruction. Although the Fourteenth Amendment was passed mainly to protect the freedmen in the South, the language of Section 1 is not racially limited. Campbell used it to argue for a new, broad reading of the Fourteenth Amendment, in order to allow butchers of any race to "sustain their lives through labor."
In a 5–4 decision issued on April 14, 1873, by Justice Miller, the Court held to a narrow interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment and ruled that it did not restrict the police powers of the state. It held that the Fourteenth Amendment's Privileges or Immunities Clause affected only rights of US citizenship, not state citizenship, so the butchers' Fourteenth Amendment rights had not been violated. At the time, the Court viewed due process in a procedural light rather than substantively. The Court also held that the amendment was intended primarily to protect former slaves and so could not be broadly applied:
We do not conceal from ourselves the great responsibility which this duty devolves upon us. No questions so far reaching and pervading in their consequences, so profoundly interesting to the people of this country, and so important in their bearing upon the relations of the United States and of the several States to each other, and to the citizens of the states and of the United States, have been before this court during the official life of any of its present members. We have given every opportunity for a full hearing at the bar; we have discussed it freely and compared views among ourselves; we have taken ample time for careful deliberation, and we now propose to announce the judgments which we have formed in the construction of those articles, so far as we have found them necessary to the decision of the cases before us, and beyond that we have neither the inclination nor the right to go.— Slaughterhouse Cases: 83 U.S. 36, 67 (1873)
The next observation is more important in view of the arguments of counsel in the present case. It is, that the distinction between citizenship of the United States and citizenship of a state is clearly recognized and established....
It is quite clear, then, that there is a citizenship of the United States, and a citizenship of a state, which are distinct from each other, and which depend upon different characteristics or circumstances in the individual.
We think this distinction and its explicit recognition in this Amendment of great weight in this argument, because the next paragraph of this same section, which is the one mainly relied on by the plaintiffs in error, speaks only of privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, and does not speak of those of citizens of the several states. The argument, however, in favor of the plaintiffs, rests wholly on the assumption that the citizenship is the same and the privileges and immunities guaranteed by the clause are the same.— Slaughterhouse Cases: 83 U.S. 36, 73–74 (1873)
Miller believed that the first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment ("All persons born and naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State where they reside") differentiated between two citizenships, one of the US and another of the state. Furthermore, the second sentence, forbidding states from making "any law which shall abridge," applied only to federal rights. Thus, the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Constitution protected only those rights guaranteed by the United States, not individual states. As author Jack Beatty put it, the rights included "access to ports and navigable waterways, the ability to run for federal office, and to be protected while on the high seas... they did not include what we call 'civil rights.'"
Miller argues that if the privileges or immunities clause protected the civil rights of citizens of a state from that state, the Fourteenth Amendment would in essence be granting to the federal government the power to protect all civil rights that had previously been protected by the states, and "in the absence of language which expresses such a purpose too clearly to admit of doubt," that was too radical a change to be within the scope of the Fourteenth amendment:
Was it the purpose of the fourteenth amendment, by the simple declaration that no State should make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, to transfer the security and protection of all the civil rights which we have mentioned, from the States to the Federal government? And where it is declared that Congress Shall have the power to enforce that article, was it intended to bring within the power of Congress the entire domain of civil rights heretofore belonging exclusively to the States?
All this and more must follow if the proposition of the plaintiffs in error be sound.... [T]he effect is to fetter and degrade the State governments by subjecting them to the control of Congress in the exercise of powers heretofore universally conceded to them of the most ordinary and fundamental character....
We are convinced that no such results were intended by the Congress which proposed these amendments, nor by the legislatures of the States which ratified them.— Slaughterhouse Cases: 83 U.S. 36, 77–78 (1873)
Justice Stephen J. Field wrote in his dissent (which was the only dissent in the case joined by all the other dissenting justices) that Miller's opinion effectively rendered the Fourteenth Amendment a "vain and idle enactment."
Field, joined by three other justices, wrote an influential dissent in which he accepted Campbell's reading of the amendment as not confined to protection of freed slaves but embraced the common law presumption in favor of an individual right to pursue a legitimate occupation. Field's reading of the due process clause of the amendment would prevail in future cases in which the court read the amendment broadly to protect property interests against hostile state laws.
The victory of the Crescent City Company survived for only 11 years. By 1879, the State of Louisiana had adopted a new constitution prohibiting the state's ability to grant slaughterhouse monopolies, devolving regulation of cattle slaughter to parishes and municipalities, and banning the subordinate governmental units from granting monopoly rights over such activities. Having essentially lost its monopoly protection, the Crescent City Co. sued. That case ended in Butchers' Union Co. v. Crescent City Co. (1884), with the Supreme Court holding that Crescent City Co. did not have a contract with the state and so that revocation of the monopoly privilege was not a violation of the Contract Clause.
Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe wrote that "the Slaughter-House Cases incorrectly gutted the Privileges or Immunities Clause." Similarly, Yale Law School professor Akhil Amar wrote, "Virtually no serious modern scholar—left, right, and center—thinks that Slaughter-House is a plausible reading of the Fourteenth Amendment."
On the other hand, Kevin Gutzman, contemporary U.S. constitutional scholar and historian, argues that the Fourteenth Amendment was originally meant to protect only "specifically federal rights" and describes the later, broader interpretation of the Amendment as "the Court's [use of] the Fourteenth Amendment to claim a capacious national judicial authority." In support of his view, Gutzman quotes the Court itself:
Was it the purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment, by the simple declaration that no State should make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of 'citizens of the United States', to transfer the security and protection of all the civil rights which we have mentioned, from the States to the Federal government? Such a construction...would constitute this court a perpetual censor upon all legislation of the States.
Thus, Gutzman believes that "legal academics despise the Slaughterhouse decision because they do think the federal courts should be 'a perpetual censor upon all legislation in the States.'"
- Beatty, Jack (2008). Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865–1900. New York: Vintage Books. p. 135. ISBN 1400032423. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
- "Slaughterhouse Cases". cornell.edu.
- "H-Net Reviews". h-net.org.
- Graham, Howard Jay. Everyman's Constitution. p. 132.[full citation needed]
- Foner, Eric (1990). A Short History of Reconstruction (1863–1877). New York: HarperCollins. p. 529. ISBN 978-0060551827.
- 111 U.S. 746 (1884)
- Levy, Robert A. (October 2009). "Cato Policy Report: How Gun Litigation Can Restore Economic Liberties". Cato Institute.
- Gutzman, Kevin R. C. (2007). The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing. pp. 134–137.
- Amar, Akhil R. (2000). "Foreword: The Document and the Doctrine". Harvard Law Review. 114: 26, 123 n.327.
- Lurie, Jonathan & Labbe, Ronald (2003). Regulation, Reconstruction, and the Fourteenth Amendment. Wichita: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0-7006-1290-4.
- Ross, Michael A. (September 2003). "Obstructing Reconstruction: John Archibald Campbell and the Legal Campaign Against Louisiana's Republican Government, 1868–1873". Civil War History. 49 (3): 235–253.
- ——— (November 1998). "Justice Miller's Reconstruction: The Slaughter-House Cases, Health Codes, and Civil Rights in New Orleans, 1861–1873". Journal of Southern History. 64 (4): 649–676.
- ——— (2003). Justice of Shattered Dreams: Samuel Freeman Miller and the Supreme Court During the Civil War Era. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 0-8071-2924-0.
- Texts on Wikisource:
- Text of Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36 (1873) is available from: Findlaw Justia Oyez OpenJurist Google Scholar
- Can the Slaughter-House Cases Be Saved from Its Critics? – Pamela Brandwein (University of Texas at Dallas)
- Slaughterhouse Cases – PBS.com
- "Supreme Court Landmark Case, Slaughterhouse Cases" from C-SPAN's Landmark Cases: Historic Supreme Court Decisions