Slaughterhouse Cases (1873)


The Slaughterhouse Cases (1873) was a supreme court case which became the first to interpret the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments. After slaughterhouse practices continued to contaminate New Orleans drinking water, Louisiana state legislature passed an act that allowed the city to create a company which essentially monopolized the slaughterhouse industry. All butchers interested in slaughtering meat had to do so at Crescent City Livestock Landing and Slaughterhouse Company. The Butchers’ Benevolent Association, an organization of New Orleans butchers, assembled in multiple cases to sue on the grounds that the government, by creating the company, violated their privileges or immunities and deprived them of their liberty and property without due process as protected by the fourteenth amendment. Additionally, they claimed that Crescent city violated the 13th amendment, referring to their actions as “involuntary servitude.” They appealed after losing in all trial cases. The supreme court  affirmed and held that neither their 13th or 14th amendment rights had been violated. The narrow reading of  Privileges or Immunities in The Slaughterhouse Cases rendered the clause nearly insignificant.



In 1869, due to cholera outbreaks due to the slaughterhouse location depositing waste in the waterways of Crescent City, Louisiana, the Louisiana Legislature passed an act to create a central slaughterhouse premise for all slaughterhouses in the New Orleans area to slaughter on the same property. “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” (hereinafter will be called the statute, or the act) was created because of the contribution of contamination  to New Orleans water lines near the slaughterhouses. The contamination to the waterways caused health risks, and made it necessary  for the Crescent City Livestock Landing & Slaughterhouse Company to monopolize and properly remove animal remains. Following the act, a group of butchers opposed the law and sued the state of Louisiana in state court.

Procedural History

Initially, following issuance of the statute, Members of the Butchers’ Benevolent Association assembled to sue and impede Crescent City’s monopolization of the slaughterhouse industry. They claimed that the company’s actions involved a form of involuntary servitude (as prohibited by the thirteenth amendment), and depended on the due process, privileges or immunities, and equal protection clauses of the fourteenth amendment to render the Slaughterhouse Act unacceptable. Beginning May 26, 1869, The association initiated multiple suits, in which they sought injunction to prevent Crescent City from continuing their monopolistic practices allowed under the act. In each, the lower courts ruled in favor of Crescent City. It was argued on January 11, 1872, then reargued on February 3-5 1873.


  1. Did the statute create an involuntary servitude forbidden by the 13th amendment amendment of the Constitution?
  2. Did the statute abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens protected by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution?
  3. Did the statute deny equal protections protected by the 14th Amendment to the plaintiffs?
  4. Did the statute deprive them of their property without due process of law despite article one of the 14th amendment?

Arguments by Petitioner

  • Statue creates an illegal monopoly by benefitting a select group of citizenry over others. (14th amendment/equal protection)
  • The statute created an undue burden upon the butchers of New Orleans which prevented them from practicing their trade. (Violation of due process and privileges and immunities via 14th amendment).
  • Statute creates a system where the butchers were forced to practice a form of “indentured servitude.” (13th amendment.)

Arguments by Respondent

  • The Louisiana legislature believed the bill to be in the best interests of the city by protecting the cleanliness of the waterways and therefor the health of the citizens. They cited similar legislation active in New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia as precedent.
  • Though the act did grant sole ownership to the Crescent City Co. the statute included provisions for the equal protections of all butchers by forbidding the selective sale of lots, and the inclusion of government oversight through the presence of a city official who would evaluate the health conditions of the site.


Justice Miller wrote the majority opinion in a 5-4 decision.  On the first issue, no, the petitioners weren’t involved in involuntary servitude, because they weren’t limited on their rights to use their own property. On the second issue, no, the privileges and immunities clause was created to protect national citizens, not state citizens. On the third issue, no, the statute doesn’t deny equal protections of the law to plaintiffs, they have the opportunity to not incorporate. On the fourth issue, no, the statute doesn’t deprive the plaintiffs of their property without due process of law. In concluding the Supreme court’s decision, they affirmed the lower court’s original decision.

Majority Opinion (Miller)

Justice Miller wrote the majority opinion. The Supreme court ruled that the butcher’s fourteenth amendment rights had not been violated. It declared that the amendment did not restrict police powers, and that the fourteenth amendment’s Privileges or Immunities clause affected rights explicitly acknowledged in the U.S constitution, not the extensive list of rights granted by state citizenship.  Additionally, the court held that they were not deprived of their property without due process, because they remained able to earn a living, even if only by slaughtering on Crescent City grounds. Furthermore, the court argued that the amendment was intended to protect former slaves. The “pervading purpose,” in  each of the reconstruction era amendments,  according to Justice Miller, was to liberate the formerly enslaved African Americans. Therefore, the majority felt that though this had not been explicitly mentioned in all of them, none of the amendments could be applied in this case for the butchers.

Dissenting Opinion (Bradley)

Justice Bradley joined Swayne and Field in their dissent.  He starts by stating that he concurs with the opinion read by Justice Field but that he had a few observations to add to get across his own ideas.  As with Justice Field he gives a brief backdrop of the issues in the case. From there he jumps into his first of two reasons for why he believes the decision should be reversed which is that because of the 14th amendment citizenship of the United States is first and state citizenship is second.  He explains that with the “privileges and immunities” clause citizens have the right to follow any lawful employment he chooses which he believes is one of the most valuable rights that a state cannot take away.  In regards to monopolies started by a state Bradley explains that it is not in the state’s police power to restrict such an ordinary occupation, in reference to being a butcher, so that they must complete their job for only one company.  Bradley states that he believes that part of the reason the 14th amendment was adopted was to protect the fundamental rights of the citizen.

Dissenting Opinion (Field)

Justice Field joined justice Bradley and Swayne in their dissent. In his dissent, after he highlighted the main issues the plaintiffs had brought up, he focused on the more broader interpretation of the 14th amendment. He argued that the 14th amendment should be applied to people who are citizens of the state as there is no distinction between state and national citizenship and the “due process” and “privileges and immunities” clause of the amendment should be a right for all citizens to have and that these rights cannot be abridged by State legislation. The beginning of his dissent he strongly argues that these rights are ultimate and “not dependant upon the citizenship of any State” because the states are all one under the same country. In the remainder of the dissent, Justice Field goes on to argue for the distinction that should lie between monopolies and their excess entanglement with citizen’s justices that intrude upon their “privileges and immunities.” He explained how he believed States should have a balancing power to regulate economic decisions so as to allow citizens freedom of property.

Dissenting Opinion (Swayne)

Justice Swayne joined Field and Bradley in their dissent. He declared that the citizens of the United States and those in the individual states have the same rights. Swayne felt the legislation deprived the plaintiffs of liberty and property without due process, denied them equal protection, and by creating a monopoly, abridged their privileges and immunities as provided in the 14th amendment. He claimed the butchers’ “labor [was their] property,” and thus needed to be protected. According to Swayne’s interpretation of the 13th and 14th amendments, the protections and rights granted in them applied to all citizens regardless of race. In his opinion, the majority erred in imposing a limit on the amendments that the writers did not intend. “Our duty is to execute the law, not to make it,” he stated. For these reasons, he felt the decisions in favor of the defendants required reversal.

Full Text of Opinions:


The slaughterhouse case was important because it was the first time that the Supreme Court of the United States would review the XIV Amendment which had been ratified a scant five years prior, as a concession of the Civil War. The opinion delivered would become the definitive interpretation of the “privileges and immunities” clause, essentially rendering the issue a dead letter. Slaughterhouse has gone down in the annals of SCOTUS history as a fairly unpopular decision, with many claiming that the opinion handed down opened the door for numerous civil rights abuses by the states whose police powers gave them the ability to curtail individual rights to a great extent.

Second Timeline

Constitutional Provisions

13th and 14th Amendment due process and privileges and immunities clause.

  • 13th Amendment: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction”
  • 14th Amendment: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of the states nor shall any state deprive any person of life liberty and property without due process of law; nor deny any person jurisdiction without equal protection of the laws.”

Major Statues Under Review

  • 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

Important Precedents

This case was notable for being the first constitutional case to review the recently enacted 14th amendment.

Important Subsequent Cases

The Chase court’s interpretation on the second clause of the XIV Amendment has remained largely unchallenged to the present day, however the 14th amendment continued to be a vehicle for legislative review. In particular, the Lochner era of the supreme court was largely defined by its use of the 14th amendment to employ substantive due process as a means of promoting contractual liberty via the discernment of unenumerated rights not overtly expressed in the constitution; though this method would later fall out of fashion in favor of a more textually-driven interpretation of rights. As of late, the interpretations found in Slaughterhouse have themselves come into question. As for the plaintiffs in the slaughterhouse case, they would be vindicated just eleven years later when the state government of Louisiana adopted a new constitution which prohibited the establishment of monopolies. The new legislation brought about another suit, this time led by the Crescent City Co., which culminated in Butchers Union Co. V. Crescent City Co. (1884)  where their monopoly was constitutionally struck down by the Supreme Court.

Web Resources

Cornell University Law School. “Slaughterhouse Cases,” accessed November 9, 2016.

Justia. “Slaughterhouse Cases 83 U.S. 36 (1872),” accessed October 5, 2016,

McBride, Alex. PBS. “Slaughterhouse Cases (1873),”  accessed October 5, 2016.

Nov 9th, 2016

Wikipedia. “Slaughterhouse Cases,” accessed October 5, 2016.

“Interesting Slaughter House Case Documents.” EDLA 200th Anniversary – Slaughter House Case Documents. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

“Slaughter-House Cases | Cartoons | Image | Illustration | Picture.” Slaughter-House Cases | Cartoons | Image | Illustration | Picture. Law Cartoons by Maddie and Stu, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.



Academic Books

Franklin, Mitchell. “Foundations and Meaning of the Slaughterhouse Cases.” Tul. L. Rev. 18 (1943): 1.

Millhiser, Ian. Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted. Nation Books, 2015. Chapter 1. 

Ronald M. Labbe and Jonathan Lurie. The Slaughterhouse Cases: Regulation, Reconstruction, and the Fourteenth Amendment (University Press of Kansas, 2003).

Ross, Michael A. “Justice Miller’s reconstruction: The Slaughter-House Cases, health codes, and civil rights in New Orleans, 1861-1873.” The Journal of Southern History 64.4 (1998): 649-676.


Fall 2016: Veeda Mashayekh, Connor Farrar, Jordan Solomon, Jerry G. Thiel, Kierra Nebane

Tasks for Future Contributors

Better identification of appeals dates.