Slaughterhouse Cases 16 Wallace 36 (1873)

AuthorHarold M. Hyman

Page 2423

Most histories of the Constitution begin consideration of the judicial interpretation of the THIRTEENTH and FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS with the Slaughterhouse decision of 1873. The decision is, to be sure, of vast significance. Justices JOSEPH P. BRADLEY and STEPHEN J. FIELD, dissenting, expressed embryonic DOCTRINES of FREEDOM OF CONTRACT and SUBSTANTIVE DUE PROCESS that were to dominate American jurisprudence for two generations.

In 1869, Louisiana, ostensibly as a public health measure, incorporated the Crescent City Stock Landing and Slaughterhouse Company and granted it a monopoly of licensed butchering in New Orleans. Butchers not parties to the lucrative arrangement, after failing to crack the monopoly in the state courts, employed as counsel, in an appeal to the federal courts, former Supreme Court Justice JOHN A. CAMPBELL, who more recently had been a Confederate assistant secretary of war. Campbell argued before the Supreme Court that the excluded butchers had been deprived of their livelihoods by the state's deliberate discrimination, although Louisiana had disguised the corrupt monopoly as a health measure. Therefore the disputed statute violated the Thirteenth Amendment's ban on involuntary servitude, the 1866 CIVILRIGHTSACT'S enforcements of that ban, and the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantees of EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAWS, and due process.

Among prominent counsel for the state, Senator MATTHEW HALE CARPENTER responded to Campbell's innovative brief. Carpenter easily assembled case law that sustained state restrictions on private economic relationships. He insisted that the STATE POLICE POWER amply undergirded the Louisiana statute. No federal constitutional question existed, Carpenter asserted. Both the Thirteenth and the Fourteenth Amendments were irrelevant to the litigants' rights and remedies. And, he prophesied, the federal system would be virtually revolutionized if the Court accepted Campbell's notions and legitimized a federal interest in individuals' claims to be exempt from state regulation.

Speaking through Justice SAMUEL F. MILLER, a majority of the Court was unready to accept Campbell's view that federal guarantees to individuals extended to trades (although, in the TEST OATH CASES, 1867, the Court had extended other federal guarantees to lawyers, ministers, and teachers). Instead, having accepted Carpenter's arguments, Miller reviewed the tradition of judicial support for state...

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