The Slaughterhouse Cases and the 14th Amendment

The Slaughterhouse Cases and The 14th Amendment

The 14th Amendment was proposed in 1866 and was ratified in1868; it is often referred to as part of the Reconstruction Amendments; the other two are the 13th and 15th amendments. The most important section of the 14th amendment is the first clause, all persons born or naturalized in the United States (except Indians) to be both national and state citizens, it also prohibited the states from abridging their privileges and immunities; depriving any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law, or denying any person of equal protection of the laws (Eric, 2004).

The Slaughterhouse Cases are known for two reasons. First, it was the first case the Supreme Court heard under the 14th Amendment. Secondly, it is known as one of the Supreme Courts worst decisions. A decision that not only made a mockery of the 14th Amendment (Root, 2010), but also limited the application of the 14th Amendment and destroyed the value of the privileges and immunities clause of that Amendment (Hall, Finkelman, & Ely, 2005). In the Following pages I will go over some of the arguments the litigants had to their defense and different interpretations from the Supreme Court Justices and how they interpreted 14th Amendment.

A quick overview of what the slaughterhouse cases were about. The state of Louisiana gave the rights to the slaughtering of animals within the New Orleans vicinity to one company, Crescent City Live-Stock Landing & Slaughtering Company, which created a monopoly for them. If butchers wanted to continue in their practice they were required to rent space within the Crescent City Company, otherwise it was unlawful to set up a butcher shop within the New Orleans city limits. The state of Louisiana passed this law stating that it would be easier to regulate health and safety regulations, by centralizing and improving slaughterhouse production (Landmark Cases, 2007). The butchers argued that the monopoly violated their 13th and 14th Amendments. The butchers specifically said that it deprived them of the right to exercise their trade (Slaughterhouse Cases, 2010).

The Law that the State of Louisiana passed consisted of 10 different sections. It gave specific rules and regulations, which any butcher who was not part of the Crescent-City Company, had to follow. Among those laws were not being able to slaughter within the city limits and if they did they were liable for a $250 fine. They also had the power to set up butcher shops at any place throughout the city. This law was to be in effect for twenty-five years, at which point the contract would expire (Slaughterhouse Cases, 2010).

In their defense, the State of Louisiana insisted that the legislature had always granted them the rights, if necessary and served in the public’s interest, to implement laws to better serve the people. Thus the reasoning for this law and monopoly: To better regulate the quality and output of product for the health of the people (Landmark Cases, 2007). They go on to argue that it is not in violation of the 13th or 14th Amendments because the adoption of those Amendments was for the freeing of slavery (13th Amendment), and to protect their rights (14th Amendment). Moreover, they go on to define servitude as, “intended to prohibit all forms of involuntary slavery of whatever class or name" (Slaughterhouse Cases, 2010). Which differs from the way the plaintiffs’ define servitude, as we will see in the subsequent paragraphs.

The defendants go on to argue that the protections of the first and second clauses in the 14th Amendment differentiated between citizens of the state and citizens of the United States. They point out that in the second clause of the 14th Amendment it states that, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States" (Hall, Finkelman, & Ely, 2005 p.687). Thus, their argument that the 14th Amendment specifies “citizens of the United States" and therefore the 14th Amendment did not apply to a citizen of the State of Louisiana. Moreover, they continued to reinforce the notion that these Amendments were put into action for the sole purpose of protecting the rights of newly freed slaves (Slaughterhouse Cases, 2010).

The argument for the plaintiffs derived from the country in which the Union recently went to war and won their freedom from the British Monarchy. A country that had been ruled by monopolies in such things as, “wine, coal, salt, starch, the dressing of meat in taverns, beavers, belts, bone-lace, leather, pins, and other things, to the gathering of rags" (Slaughterhouse Cases, 2010). Strongly protesting that this law unambiguously went against all that the Union had fought to gain: Freedom, from the grasp and shadow of the British Monarchy. In addition to this, and what I would consider the strongest argument that the butchers presented, was their interpretation of the 13th amendments “slavery and involuntary servitude" clause. They expanded on the notion that slavery and servitude did not only apply to black freed salves, but also to them (Slaughterhouse Cases, 2010).

The monopoly granted to the Crescent-City Company allowed no person to practice his or her trade Even in the confines of their own property, lest they be fined and taken to court. If they wanted to make any money from their trade, they had to not only conduct business within the confines of the Crescent-City Company; they also were required to pay fees. Fees that were outlined within the ten sections of law that Louisiana had passed, for the renting of the space and fees based off every animal that they were to store, butcher and sell (Slaughterhouse Cases, 2010). The butchers argued that the 14th Amendment did not clearly define citizenship in relation to the State or that of the Unites States. Arguing that the 14th Amendment clearly says, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the State where they reside" (Slaughterhouse Cases, 2010).

This leads us to the decision from the Supreme Court Justice. Although the Supreme upheld the original decision of the lower courts it was a close 5-4 ruling. The main reasoning came from Justice Miller based on the same principal foundations of the defense. That the Amendments under which they were arguing on pertained to newly freed black slaves. Justice Miller used the 15th Amendment as the only Amendment mentioning the black slave explicitly, but, because of that assertion, it most definitely applied to the other Reconstruction Amendments.

Justice Miller proclaimed that there was a difference between a citizen of the State and a citizen of the United States. Clinging to the section of Amendment that states, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States" (Hall, Finkelman, & Ely, 2005 p. 269). Therefore leading to the conclusion that the clause in the 14th Amendment not only pertained to blacks, but to citizens of the United States and not individual States.

The Justices who dissented were requesting a more broad interpretation of the 14th Amendment. “Stressing the nationalization of liberty under the Amendment" (Hall, Finkelman, & Ely, 2005 p. 271). Amongst their arguments were those same arguments brought upon by the plaintiffs’ interpretations of the 13th and 14th Amendments. The 14th Amendment as it was written, in relation to citizenship of State or United States is that, “No one can be the former without being also the latter" (Dissenting Opinion:Supreme Court Of The United States, 2010). Justice Bradley further reiterated that thought in his reasoning, “it was meant to secure fundamental rights of any citizen against discrimination by his state" (Slaughterhouse Cases, 2010).

Known for both the first 14th Amendment case and as one of the worst decisions upheld by the Supreme Court. It is clearly evident that there are many different reasons for the outcome of this case. Some say that it had political connections, that the Crescent-City Company was granted this monopoly because it was, “a group of politically-connected insiders" (Root, 2010). As I have evaluated this case throughout my research, it seems that The Constitution, along with the Bill of Rights are an adaptive or evolutionary set of rights that are up to the interpretation of the times in which they are presented. Therefore, decisions that are made could be greatly influenced based off of the ideologies of those who are in place of power at the time.

The decisions could have been made because of some political motives. Or just an interpretation of the era in which these decisions were made. In the slaughterhouse cases, it seems conceivable that because of the Reconstruction of the United States, and the implementation of these post Civil War Amendments, that the justices who upheld the decision had a very literal interpretation of the Amendments and that it pertained only to black slaves.

Thankfully though, as per those who were in dissent on the final decision it is clear that some of the Justices had a more diverse and open way of thinking to what the Amendments mean. It is nothing; as this Country continues to move forward, so do the values and morals of an ever-changing culture continue that continue to influence what is right or wrong, good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable. In the end, it comes down to being able be progressive thinking, continuing to find justice within the means of the adaptive nature of our Constitution; even though at times it will be at the sacrifice or misfortune of others.