Slaughterhouse Cases

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History

The Slaughterhouse Cases of 1873 were the first major interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment by the United States Supreme Court. The case involved a group of New Orleans butchers, the Butchers’ Benevolent Association, suing a slaughterhouse over a Louisiana statute that provided it with a clear monopoly. The Louisiana state court found the statute constitutional, and the butchers successfully appealed to have their three consolidated cases be heard in the Supreme Court. [1] The controversial 5-4 court decision’s opinion ruled against the butchers, on the basis of the court’s landmark reading of the Fourteenth Amendment and its privileges and immunities clause. [2] The case and the parties involved give a view into daily New Orleans life and cement the city’s place in American legal history.

Lawsuit

The lawsuit occurred as a response to the state of Louisiana’s statute in 1869 that granted a single slaughterhouse and its owners a 25-year monopoly on the slaughterhouse industry in New Orleans. The Crescent City Livestock Landing and Slaughter House Company was the company in question, and although it would have to build a slaughterhouse that could accommodate all butchers in the area, these butchers did not want to give up their profitable slaughterhouses. [3] Louisiana stated that the statute would help centralize the industry and decrease pollution, but critics of the statute believed that the monopoly was only created as a way of political patronage towards the slaughterhouse owners. The New Orleans political climate was rife with corruption and patronage at the time, and this could definitely be seen as an example of such. [4]

The Butchers’ Benevolent Association

The Butchers’ Benevolent Association was founded in 1869, with the building of its own slaughterhouse in St. Bernard Parish. The monopoly was actually granted that same year, so the Association’s frustration was clearly understandable. The founding president was Paul Esteben, who went on to serve for 25 years at the position. [5] The Association represented many local butchers and was remarkable for its unification of French Cajuns and Louisianians. The New Orleans Daily Picayune described this unique facet of the organization, stating that “the members disregard questions of nationality and work for one common cause, that of mutual benevolence and general charity.” [6] This is definitely affirmed by the fact that Esteben himself was born in the French Pyrenees and came to New Orleans after 14 years in France. [7]

The Crescent City Slaughterhouse and Livestock Company

The Crescent City Slaughterhouse and Livestock Company, with its granted monopoly, would have become the source of the entire New Orleans meat supply. With its monopoly, all butchers in the city, including the Butchers’ Benevolent Association’s entire membership, would be forced to operate in its central slaughterhouse. The Association actually took up a large partitioned section below the living quarters in the grand slaughterhouse, which was located in Algiers. Later on, after the case, the two groups would actually consolidate and form a slaughterhouse in St. Bernard Parish. [8] The Crescent City Slaughterhouse may have been the largest and most important in the city. This is shown by its monopoly deal with the city and its role as one of only two major slaughterhouses in the city as late as 1895 [9] In fact, in 1890, The Daily Picayune referred to the Crescent City Slaughterhouse as “the place from which the chief food supply of the city is derived. [10] With its 1873 monopoly it would definitely have been important to New Orleans.

The Slaughterhouse Monopoly’s Benefits for New Orleans

The Louisiana legislature’s statute may have granted a monopoly, but it was acting at least in part for the common good. The previous slaughterhouses in New Orleans had caused major problems for all residents. Refuse from the slaughterhouses was thrown carelessly into the Mississippi River and the streets of New Orleans, causing major sanitation problems. The city was already notorious for its extreme filth and outbreaks of disease, and slaughterhouses located in crowded areas of the cities only added to these issues. Other cities around the country had already passed laws creating centralized grand slaughterhouses to solve this problem, so New Orleans’ statute wasn’t unprecedented. Also, during Reconstruction, very few people paid taxes in full to an already depleted Louisiana treasury after the Civil War. In order to raise revenue, Louisiana gave private companies like the Crescent City Livestock Landing and Slaughterhouse Company the exclusive right to produce certain goods so that stocks could be profitably sold. [11] These intentions would legitimize the statute as a reasonable law, but do not help disprove the fact that it created a monopoly. Justice Samuel Miller made an apt comment in his majority opinion on the state of affairs in New Orleans due to the monopoly, stating “It cannot be denied that the statute under consideration is aptly framed to remove from the more densely populated part of the city the noxious slaughterhouses, and large and offensive collections of animals necessarily incident to the slaughtering business of a large city, and to locate them where the convenience, health, and comfort of the people require they shall be located.” [12]

The Slaughterhouse Monopoly’s Problems for New Orleans

Although the grand slaughterhouse of the Crescent City Livestock Landing and Slaughterhouse Company may have itself increased New Orleans’s sanitation, it was not fully beneficial for the city. According to The Louisianian, the slaughterhouses provided by the company were not big enough to fit all of the butchers in the city. Not only was this detrimental to the business of local New Orleans butchers, but this also caused further sanitation problems. Livestock couldn’t be properly accommodated, and butchers were left to deal with the problem themselves: “That for the want of room to hang the butchered cattle in the slaughterhouses a sufficient time to allow the evaporation of the animal heat, the butchers are compelled to cart away their meat in a warm condition, the effect of which is a more rapid decay of the butchered meat, which operates detrimentally to the pecuniary interest of the butchers and to the health of the people of New Orleans.” [13] So, although the institution of the monopoly may have in some ways increased New Orleans’ sanitation, the size of the slaughterhouse actually led to decreased sanitation for the city and lowered the possible supply of meat for its citizens.

John A. Campbell – Biography and Argument

The Benevolent Butchers’ Association’s lawsuit claimed that the state’s granting a monopoly, which was accepted under common law, went against the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments. [14] The butchers hired John A. Campbell, recognized as the best lawyer in the American south at the time, to represent them. Campbell had previously served on the U.S. Supreme Court, but resigned in the wake of the Civil War at the age of 42 to join the Confederacy. He later became the leading lawyer in New Orleans and was hired to represent the butchers during this period of his career in 1873. His argument explained the states’ institution of monopolies went against the Thirteenth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process, equal protection, and privileges and immunities clauses. The Fourteenth Amendment, which is the main topic of interest in The Slaughterhouse Cases, ensures that the federal and state governments treat all citizens equally, but was primarily created to give equal citizenship rights to blacks. He argued that the United States were founded upon the principle of free competition, and that monopolies went directly against it by providing a clear competitive advantage. According to Campbell, this violated the Constitution in that it denied the butchers economic freedom and equality, which to him were protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Importantly, he argued that the right to operate a slaughterhouse was a privilege and immunity protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, and although the majority disagreed, four justices accepted his expansive reading of the amendment in their minority opinions. As the best southern lawyer at the time, Campbell’s role as prosecutor reflects the importance of the case. [15]

The Court’s Opinion

Samuel Miller wrote the court’s majority opinion, which interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment very narrowly. In it, Miller stated that the privileges and immunities clause implied dual citizenship for Americans to both America and the state they reside in. Therefore, there are different privileges and immunities provided to American citizens and state citizens, and they are protected differently. Fundamental rights associated with American citizenship, such as those outlined in the Bill of Rights, among others, are to be protected by the federal government. According to this viewpoint, the state is obligated to protect most civil rights, but at their own discretion. This gave the states increased power economically and socially. Ultimately, the court ruled the statute constitutional because the right to operate a slaughterhouse freely was not seen as a civil or fundamental right and because Louisiana had the right to institute monopolies. [16]

Legacy – Legal Importance of The Slaughterhouse Cases

The Slaughterhouse Cases had a huge effect in the definition of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the important clauses in its 1st section. Today’s interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment is in part due to Justice Stephen Field and Joseph Bradleys’ views on it, shown in their dissenting opinions. Field and Bradleys’ opinions completely changed the significance of the Fourteenth Amendment from relating primarily to black citizenship to becoming a test for protection of Americans’ rights through their interpretations of the due process, equal protection, and privileges and immunities clauses. The origin of the legal doctrine of substantive due process itself can also be directly attributed to Bradley’s dissenting opinion in The Slaughterhouse Cases. [17] At the time of the decision in 1873, the New York Tribune made an argument supporting Justice Field’s opinion, which would eventually become one of the prevailing views on the Fourteenth Amendment: “The minority opinion, which was delivered by Mr. Justice Field, holds that the sanitary regulations which were pleaded as a justification of the New Orleans slaughter-house law cannot be permitted to thus serve as an excuse for an encroachment on the just rights of any citizen. It is then argued that restriction of the work of slaughtering cattle to a certain limit of territory, under certain conditions, is all that the health of the city can require. To vest in a corporation the sole right to do that work, to the exclusion of all others, is an infringement upon rights to which every citizen of the United States is entitled.” [18]

Works Cited

  • McBride, Alex. “The Supreme Court . The First Hundred Years . Landmark Cases . Slaughterhouse Cases (1873) | PBS.” PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/antebellum/landmark_slaughterhouse.html
  • “Slaughterhouse Cases Syllabus.” LII | LII / Legal Information Institute. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0083_0036_ZS.html
  • “Slaughterhouse Cases Syllabus.” LII | LII / Legal Information Institute. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0083_0036_ZS.html
  • McBride, Alex. “The Supreme Court . The First Hundred Years . Landmark Cases . Slaughterhouse Cases (1873) | PBS.” PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/antebellum/landmark_slaughterhouse.html
  • “Mr. Esteben’s Death – A Banquette Crusade.” The Daily Picayune (New Orleans). July 3, 1897. Page 11.
  • “Butchers’ Benevolent Association: It’s Twenty-First Anniversary Celebrated by a Parade and Banquet.” The Daily Picayune (New Orleans). October 31, 1887. Page 4.
  • “Mr. Esteben’s Death – A Banquette Crusade.” The Daily Picayune (New Orleans). July 3, 1897. Page 11.
  • “Mr. Esteben’s Death – A Banquette Crusade.” The Daily Picayune (New Orleans). July 3, 1897. Page 11.
  • “Forward Steps in Quarantine.” The Daily Picayune (New Orleans). March 1, 1895. Page 7.
  • “The Last Place That Should Be Filthy.” The Daily Picayune (New Orleans). January 17, 1890. Page 4.
  • Ross, Michael A.. Justice of Shattered Dreams: Samuel Freeman Miller and the Supreme Court during the Civil War Era. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003.
  • “Slaughterhouse Cases Opinion.” LII | LII / Legal Information Institute. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0083_0036_ZO.html
  • The Louisianian (New Orleans). March 16, 1871. Page 3.
  • “Slaughterhouse Cases Syllabus.” LII | LII / Legal Information Institute. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0083_0036_ZS.html
  • Ross, Michael A.. Justice of Shattered Dreams: Samuel Freeman Miller and the Supreme Court during the Civil War Era. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003.
  • “Slaughterhouse Cases Opinion.” LII | LII / Legal Information Institute. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0083_0036_ZO.html
  • Ross, Michael A.. Justice of Shattered Dreams: Samuel Freeman Miller and the Supreme Court during the Civil War Era. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003.
  • “Another View of State Rights.” New York Tribune (New York). May 5, 1873. Page 4.

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