Slaughterhouse Cases, 16 Wallace (83 U.S.) 36; 21 L. Ed. 394 (1873)

Slaughterhouse Cases, 16 Wallace (83 U.S.) 36; 21 L. Ed. 394 (1873)

Facts—These cases arose under a measure that the Louisiana legislature enacted in 1869. The act, motivated by genuine health concerns and by political corruption, regulated the business of slaughtering livestock in New Orleans. It required that such activities for the city and for a vast surrounding area should be restricted to a small section below the city of New Orleans, and provided that the slaughtering should be done in the houses of one corporation. This virtually granted a monopoly, even though the corporation was required to permit other butchers to have access to their facilities on payment of a reasonable fee.

Question—Did Louisiana’s regulation of the butchers of New Orleans deny rights under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments?


ReasonsJ. Miller (5–4). The three post–Civil War amendments (the Thirteenth through Fifteenth) disclosed a unity of purpose: the achievement of the freedom of the slave race, the security and firm establishment of that freedom, and the protection of the new freedmen and citizens from oppression by their former owners. The Court held that the rights of others were not impaired because these amendments did not speak of the rights of citizens of the states. The Court drew a sharp distinction between the rights that were derived from state citizenship and those that were derived from citizenship of the United States. The Court held that citizens derived most civil rights from state citizenship rather than from national privileges and immunities, which the Court interpreted as being quite limited in scope. The majority believed that a more expansive view of the language of the Fourteenth Amendment, and especially the privileges and immunities clause, would be unjustified absent more specific constitutional language.

Dissenting justices argued for an expansive view of the Fourteenth Amendment, and especially the privileges and immunities clause. They argued that if the majority view of the amendment were accepted, the Fourteenth Amendment “was a vain and idle enactment, which accomplished nothing and most unnecessarily excited Congress and the people on its passage” (J. Field’s language). The dissenters were, however, more interested in establishing economic rights than they were in expanding the rights of newly freed slaves.

Note—The Slaughterhouse Cases were decided only five years after the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) and were the first interpretation of the amendment. The Court’s narrow restriction of the privileges and immunities clause continues to this day.

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