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THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE CASES

(Butchers' Benevolent Association of New Orleans v. The Crescent City Livestock Landing and Slaughterhouse Co.) (1873)

The Civil War was over in 1865, but the struggle over civil rights for the Freedmen had just begun. Efforts by Congress to assure fair and equal treatment of African-Americans had come up in the Supreme Court previously, but none so fundamentally devastating as that rendered in the Slaughterhouse Cases.

The principal constitutional result of the Civil War was the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This amendment, ratified in 1868, altered the American federal system by shifting the balance of power from the states to the United States. While the primary objective was to guarantee Freedmen the rights of citizenship, a secondary objective was to nationalize protections of commonly agreed fundamental rights. The Court's initial—and therefore most significant—interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment came in 1873 in the Slaughterhouse Cases.

The facts, interestingly, have nothing to do with former slaves. The government in Louisiana granted an exclusive charter for butchering animals to a single slaughterhouse in all of New Orleans. The avowed justification was to protect the health and welfare of the good people of Louisiana by making inspection of such places more efficient. This may have been reasonable, but at the same time the statute deprived about a thousand butchers of their livelihoods—certainly one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to all Americans under natural and common law traditions. The abused butchers sued in a string of cases collectively known as the Slaughterhouse Cases.

The Fourteenth Amendment 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 wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of the citizens of the United States." The plaintiffs' principal argument rested on this privileges of immunities clause. The Court did not dispute that the right to practice one's trade was without question one of those privileges.

But the Court saw other principles in the butcher's calamity. It pointed out that the amendment distinguished United States citizenship from state citizenship. Each had its own set of rights. United States rights extended to such things as the right to petition the national government, and to protection on the high seas and when abroad. The great body ot traditional rights, claimed Justice Samuel Miller, inhered in persons because of their state citizenship. The right to practice a trade was one of those state rights. The amendment said only that no state shall deprive a person of the "privileges or immunities of citizenship of the United States." If the butchers of New Orleans had a complaint, their only recourse was to the courts of the states, a most discouraging prospect tor the abused butchers.

There were four dissenters and three dissenting opinions. In the long run, these dissenting opinions were more significant than the majority decision. That of Justice Stephen J. Field, for instance, claimed that such a basic right—and by extension many others—was so fundamental as to require no explicit statement and should be protected by the national government against any state abridgement. He invoked the equal protections and due process clauses, and applied them in a way that foresaw the expansion of federal protections of rights in the twentieth century.

But that was for the future. What the Slaughterhouse decision meant was that states could violate at will all sorts of civil rights considered to have no federal basis. One of these privileges and immunities is the right to vote; another is the use of public facilities. Many states under this doctrine of dual citizenship found the means to deprive millions of citizens—mostly black or female—of the right to vote, to practice law and other professions, to an equal education, to marry persons of a different race, and numerous other of the conditions that allow all Americans to pursue their happiness.


 


 


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TITLE: Law and Legal Services at CitiMall Shopping Mall

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