Samuel Freeman Miller served as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1862 to 1890. During his long tenure on the Court, Miller played a major role in restricting the reach of the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT into areas of the law reserved to the states. He is most famous for writing the majority opinion in the SLAUGHTER-HOUSE CASES, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36, 21 L. Ed. 394 (1873).
Miller was born on April 5, 1816, in Richmond, Kentucky, and grew up on a farm. He attended Transylvania University, where he earned a medical degree in 1838. Miller practiced medicine for ten years, and during that time he taught himself law. In 1847, he was admitted to the Kentucky bar, and soon afterward he abandoned his medical practice for a law practice in Knox County, Kentucky.
Miller became more interested in politics after he became an attorney. A member of the WHIG PARTY, Miller was opposed to SLAVERY, a position that caused him difficulty in Kentucky as pro-slavery sentiment began to rise. In 1850, he moved to Iowa, which was more tolerant of his antislavery views. He established a law practice in Keokuk, Iowa, and became a prominent member of the REPUBLICAN PARTY and a supporter of Abraham Lincoln's presidential campaign in 1860.
Lincoln appointed Miller to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1862, during the most difficult period for the Union during the Civil War. Miller voted to sustain Lincoln's suspension of HABEAS CORPUS and to try civilians by military courts-martial. Following the war, Miller voted to uphold the constitutionality of LOYALTY OATHS that were required of former Confederates who wished to hold public office.
Miller is best known for his majority opinion in the Slaughter-House Cases in 1873. At
issue was the scope of the authority in the Fourteenth Amendment, which had been passed in 1868 to guarantee that states could not restrict the constitutional rights of citizens and businesses. The case involved a Louisiana state law that allowed one meat company the exclusive right to slaughter livestock in New Orleans. Other packing companies were required to pay a fee for using the slaughterhouses. Those companies filed suit, claiming that the law violated the PRIVILEGES AND IMMUNITIES CLAUSE of the Fourteenth Amendment, which stated that "no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States."
Miller upheld the...