Slaughterhouse Cases

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After the spread of cholera caused by pollution, the state of Louisiana decided to seek a way of remedying the state’s current situation by passing a law in March 8th, 1869 (Skelton, n.d.). The law consisted of the prohibition of having slaughterhouses, slaughtering livestock, and keeping animals that were meant to be sold or slaughtered in New Orleans and some surrounding areas. This was to the exception of one slaughterhouse, Crescent City Livestock Landing & Slaughterhouse Company, which through the established law, was granted a monopoly of the area for twenty-five years. The company was designed to comply with several rules established by the state which included allowing other butchers who were not in the company, to work in their land. Independent butchers were also now required to pay fees in order to have their animals slaughtered in the company’s land. These enforcements were regarded as police regulation for the health and comfort of the people (the statute locating them where health and comfort required), within the power of the state legislatures (Skelton, n.d.).

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The Butchers Benevolent Association, a group of independent butchers, proceeded to challenge the law established stating that, according to the 13th and 14th Amendments, which at the time had only been passed a few years ago, it was unconstitutional (O’Brien, 2014, p. 284). They claimed that working for Crescent City Livestock Landing & Slaughterhouse Company could be classified or seen as a form of involuntary servitude since they only had the option to either work for them or not at all. Significantly, their main argument was that the 14th Amendment was being violated because the state was enforcing a law which abridged their privileges and immunities as citizens of the United States, and were ultimately not being granted equal protection of the laws while being deprived of property (Skelton, n.d.). A state court along with the Louisiana State Supreme Court stood by the law passed and ruled that the amendments mentioned were not being violated. This led to the Butcher’s Benevolent Association to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court (O’Brien, 2014, p. 284).
Court Holding

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Crescent City Livestock Landing & Slaughterhouse Company, the ultimate decision being five to four, stating that the 13th and 14th Amendments of the Constitution of the United States had not been violated. Justice Miller announced the majority’s (including Justices Clifford, Strong, Hunt, and Davis) decision, while Justices Field, Swayne, Bradley, and Chief Justice Chase dissented to the Court’s ruling. The basis on the Court’s decision was on the notions there is a distinction between state and U. S. citizenship, the recently-passed amendments were designated for the time in history that had taken place in regards to slavery, and the limitation of the extent of the privileges or immunities stated in the 14th Amendment section 1 of the U. S. Constitution.

In the Court’s majority opinion, Justice Miller declared that the intention of the 13th and 14th Amendments were mainly directed towards the African race, highly taking into consideration the period the country had just emerged from a few years prior. Justice Miller states No one can fail to be impressed with the one pervading purpose found in [the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments], lying at the foundation of each and without which none of them would have been even suggested; we mean the freedom of the slave race, the security and firm establishment of that freedom, and the protection of the newly made freemen and citizens from the oppressions of those who had formerly exercised unlimited dominion over them (O’Brien, 2014, p. 285). He proceeds to state that by this he does not mean that these amendments only protect African Americans, but instead that without having been in the previous era the country was in, these amendments would not have been brought upon.

Moreover, while delivering the Court’s majority opinion, Justice Miller stated that one of the most important observations is that there is a distinction between being a citizen of the United States and being a citizen of a state. He emphasizes that a person can be a citizen of the United States but can also not be a citizen of a state at the same time. He states that he notes this distinction because the next paragraph of this same section [of the article], which is the one relied on by the plaintiffs in error, speaks only of the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, and does not speak of those of citizens of the several states (Skelton, n.d.). Continuing on noting the distinction of dual citizenship, the Court states that the language used in the U. S. Constitution is that no state should enforce any law that abridges privileges specifically from U. S. citizens. Therefore, if the clause was meant to protect citizens of the state then those exact words would have been included (O’Brien, 2014, p. 285). This proves to be a significant observation to which the justices declare that the phrasing used was done so for a particular purpose.

On the dissenting side of this case, Justice Field delivered his stance on the Slaughterhouse Cases, stating that he did believe that the law passed by the state of Louisiana was unconstitutional. On his dissenting statement, Justice Field focuses on Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, first questioning what would then be considered privileges and immunities. He answers this question by stating that they are the those that which of right belong to the citizens of all free governments (O’Brien, 2014, p. 287). Along with this statement, he adds that the words privileges and immunities were not merely added in the 14th Amendment, but were rather already incorporated in the Constitution previously in Article 4 Section 2 Clause 1 (Skelton, n.d.). This is important to note because Justice Field continues by stating that it should be clear that among the privileges and immunities of a citizen should be placed the right to pursue a lawful employment in a lawful manner, without other restraint than such as equally affects all persons (O’Brien, 2014, p. 288). Through this statement, Justice Field makes it not only clear that all people should equally have the legal protection to participate in a job that they may please, but that while this right may not be explicitly stated, it is a natural right to have, or sacred right as he further describes it.

Another dissenting opinion came from Justice Bradley whose focus was on the due process clause incorporated in the 5th and 14th Amendments. He states that he finds that a law which impedes a citizen from pursuing a lawful employment (as Justice Field also describes) is a form of deprivation from their liberty and property without due process of law (O’Brien, 2014, p. 288). He goes on to describe that the liberty would be the citizens’ right to choose and the property would be their profession (O’Brien, 2014, p. 288). He adds that a monopoly is granting an exclusive right to only one company and limits the rest of the people, in this case butchers, from pursuing what they want. Moreover, Justice Bradley goes on to address the reason that was given for the purpose of the law passed in the state of Louisiana. The purpose stated was that it was for the benefit of the people due to the pollution and spread of cholera therefore, the law could be classified as a police regulation. To this, Justice Bradley argues that the portion of the act which requires all slaughterhouse to be located below the city, and to be subject to inspection is clearly a police regulation but what is not considered a police regulation is the part of the act which allows no one but the favored company to build, own, or have slaughterhouses (Skelton, n.d.). He states that a police regulation would not impose these types of infringements on individuals while granting an exclusive right to another.

Constitutional Doctrine and Theory

This case was able to bring upon a new light on the way the recently established 13th and 14th Amendments could be interpreted. As Justice Miller declares as he delivers the Court’s majority opinion, this court is thus called upon for the first time to give construction to these articles, there was no precedent formerly established (O’Brien, 2014, p. 285). The 13th Amendment had been ratified in 1865 while the 14th Amendment had only been ratified in 1868. Therefore, these two amendments were fairly recent that they had yet not gone under further scrutiny of any other potential they may hold. As of yet, these amendments were merely based on the abolishing of slavery and granting of citizenship rights to the newly freed men.

The case proved to be extremely significant, not because it changed a previous precedent but rather because it established concepts such dual citizenship, and limited what privileges and immunities could further be interpreted as. It reaffirmed the meaning of the 14th Amendment, more specifically Section 1 which states that a state cannot enforce a law that abridges rights given to a U.S. citizen, making a distinction that the clause is not directly referring to state citizenship.

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Slaughterhouse Cases. (2019, Aug 02). Retrieved September 30, 2022 , from

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