Slaughter-House Cases

The Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36 (1873), was a U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution only protects the legal rights that are associated with federal citizenship, not those that pertain to state citizenship. The decision consolidated two similar cases.

Slaughter-House Cases
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued January 11, 1872
Reargued February 3–5, 1873
Decided April 14, 1873
Full case nameThe 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
Citations83 U.S. 36 (more)
16 Wall. 36; 21 L. Ed. 394; 1872 U.S. LEXIS 1139
Case history
PriorError 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.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Salmon P. Chase
Associate Justices
Nathan Clifford · Noah H. Swayne
Samuel F. Miller · David Davis
Stephen J. Field · William Strong
Joseph P. Bradley · Ward Hunt
Case opinions
MajorityMiller, joined by Clifford, Strong, Hunt, Davis
DissentField, joined by Chase, Swayne, Bradley
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Art. IV. sec. 2, 13th, 14th, 15th Amendments

Seeking to improve sanitary conditions, the Louisiana legislature and the city of New Orleans had established a corporation charged with regulating the slaughterhouse industry. Members of the Butchers' Benevolent Association challenged the constitutionality of the corporation, claiming that it violated the Fourteenth Amendment. That amendment had been ratified in the aftermath of the American Civil War with the primary intention of protecting civil rights of millions of newly emancipated freedmen in the Southern United States, but the butchers argued that the amendment protected their right to "sustain their lives through labor."

In the majority opinion written by Associate Justice Samuel Freeman Miller, the Court held to a narrower interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment than the plaintiffs urged, ruling that it did not restrict the police powers exercised by Louisiana because the Privileges or Immunities Clause protected only those rights guaranteed by the United States, not individual states. In effect, the clause was interpreted to convey limited protection pertinent to a small minority of rights, such as the right to seek federal office.

In a dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Stephen J. Field wrote that Miller's opinion effectively rendered the Fourteenth Amendment a "vain and idle enactment." Though the decision in the Slaughter-House Cases minimized the impact of the Privileges or Immunities Clause on state law, the Supreme Court would later strike down state laws on the basis of other clauses in the Fourteenth Amendment, including the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause.


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.[1] A mile and a half upstream from the city, 1,000 butchers gutted more than 300,000 animals per year.[1] Animal entrails (known as offal), dung, blood, and urine contaminated New Orleans's drinking water, which was implicated in cholera outbreaks among the population.[1]

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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[2] 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".[2] 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.[1] In the background of his majority opinion,[2] 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.

Matthew H. Carpenter, attorney for Louisiana
John A. Campbell, attorney for the butchers

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."


Associate Justice Samuel Freeman Miller (left) wrote the majority opinion, and Associate Justice Stephen Johnson Field (right) wrote the lead dissent

In a 5–4 decision issued on April 14, 1873, by Justice Miller, the Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment did not forbid Louisiana's use of its police powers to regulate butchers. The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment's Privileges or Immunities Clause affected only rights of U.S. citizenship, i.e. rights which "owe their existence to the Federal government, its National character, its Constitution, or its laws."[4] The Court supported this holding by pointing to the previous clause in the Fourteenth Amendment which expressly distinguished between federal and state citizenship; the Citizenship Clause says, "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."[1] The Court elaborated:

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)

So, according to the Court, the butchers' Fourteenth Amendment rights had not been violated. As author Jack Beatty has put it, the Court thought the Privileges or Immunities Clause only protected "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.'"[1] The Court also mentioned some rights enumerated in the Constitution, as examples of privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States: "The right to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievances, the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, are rights of the citizen guaranteed by the Federal Constitution." But, the Court was wary of going further because, "in the absence of language which expresses such a purpose too clearly to admit of doubt," turning the entire field of civil rights and state police power over to the federal government would be too radical of a change:

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)

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: "It is so clearly a provision for that race and that emergency, that a strong case would be necessary for its application to any other."

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."[5][6]

Field accepted Campbell's reading of the amendment as not confined to protection of freed slaves but embracing 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 personal interests against hostile state laws.

Subsequent developmentsEdit

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),[7] 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.

Contemporary analysisEdit

Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe wrote that "the Slaughter-House Cases incorrectly gutted the Privileges or Immunities Clause."[8][9] 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."[10]

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." 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.'"[11]

Kevin Newsom, who later became a federal appeals court judge, wrote in 2000 that the Slaughter-House Cases are consistent with using the Privileges or Immunities Clause to apply the federal Bill of Rights against the states, but not for applying unenumerated rights against the states.[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f Beatty, Jack (2008). Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865–1900. New York: Vintage Books. p. 135. ISBN 978-1400032426. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d "Slaughterhouse Cases".
  3. ^ Pamela Brandwein (May 2004). "Can the Slaughter-House Cases Be Saved from Its Critics?". H-Net Reviews.
  4. ^ United States Supreme Court Reports, Volume 21, p. 409. The word "owe" is often misspelled as "own."
  5. ^ Graham, Howard Jay. Everyman's Constitution. p. 132.[full citation needed]
  6. ^ Foner, Eric (1990). A Short History of Reconstruction (1863–1877). New York: HarperCollins. p. 529. ISBN 978-0060551827.
  7. ^ 111 U.S. 746 (1884)
  8. ^ Levy, Robert A. (October 2009). "Cato Policy Report: How Gun Litigation Can Restore Economic Liberties". Cato Institute.
  9. ^ Tribe, Laurence H. (1995). "Taking Text and Structure Seriously: Reflections on Free-Form Method in Constitutional Interpretation". Harvard Law Review. 108 (6): 1221–1303. doi:10.2307/1341856. ISSN 0017-811X.
  10. ^ Amar, Akhil (May 15, 2001). "Substance and Method in the Year 2000". Pepperdine Law Review. 28: 631.
  11. ^ Gutzman, Kevin R. C. (2007). The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing. pp. 134–137.
  12. ^ Newsom, Kevin. "Setting Incorporationism Straight: A Reinterpretation of the Slaughter-House Cases," Yale Law Journal, Vol. 109, p. 643 (2000).


  • 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. doi:10.1353/cwh.2003.0070.
  • ——— (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. doi:10.2307/2587513. JSTOR 2587513.
  • ——— (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.

External linksEdit