Landmark Supreme Court Case: Slaughter-House Cases (1873)
Slaughter-House Cases (1873) is the twentieth landmark Supreme Court case, the seventh case in the Economics module, featured in the KTB Prep American Government and Civics Series designed to acquaint users with the origins, concepts, organizations, and policies of the United States government and political system. The goal is greater familiarization with the rights and obligations of citizenship at the local, state, national, and global levels and the history of our nation as a democracy. While there is overlap, these landmark cases are separated into cases addressing:
- Foreign Policy
- Science & Technology
- Public Safety
- Death Penalty
- Speech, Press, and Protest
- Criminal Justice
- Politics, Society, Freedom, and Equality
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. Article III of the U.S. Constitution created the Supreme Court and authorized Congress to pass laws establishing a system of lower courts. The Constitution elaborated neither the exact powers and prerogatives of the Supreme Court nor the organization of the Judicial Branch as a whole. Thus, it has been left to Congress and to the Justices of the Court through their decisions to develop the Federal Judiciary and a body of Federal law.
The number of Justices on the Supreme Court changed six times before settling at the present total of nine in 1869. Since the formation of the Court in 1790, there have been only 17 Chief Justices* and 102 Associate Justices, with Justices serving for an average of 16 years. On average a new Justice joins the Court almost every two years.
The Supreme Court of the United States hears about 100 to 150 appeals of the more than 7,000 cases it is asked to review every year. That means the decisions made by the 12 Circuit Courts of Appeals across the country and the Federal Circuit Court are the last word in thousands of cases.
Court of Appeals
In the federal court system’s present form, 94 district level trial courts and 13 courts of appeals sit below the Supreme Court. The 94 federal judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a court of appeals. The appellate court’s task is to determine whether or not the law was applied correctly in the trial court. Appeals courts consist of three judges and do not use a jury.
The appellate courts do not retry cases or hear new evidence. They do not hear witnesses testify. There is no jury. Appellate courts review the procedures and the decisions in the trial court to make sure that the proceedings were fair and that the proper law was applied correctly.
A court of appeals hears challenges to district court decisions from courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies. In addition, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in specialized cases, such as those involving patent laws, and cases decided by the U.S. Court of International Trade and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
The nation’s 94 trial courts are called U.S. District Courts. At a trial in a U.S. District Court, witnesses give testimony and a judge or jury decides who is guilty or not guilty — or who is liable or not liable. District courts resolve disputes by determining the facts and applying legal principles to decide who is right.
Trial courts include the district judge who tries the case and a jury that decides the case. Magistrate judges assist district judges in preparing cases for trial. They may also conduct trials in misdemeanor cases.
There is at least one district court in each state, and the District of Columbia. Each district includes a U.S. bankruptcy court as a unit of the district court.
Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases involving personal, business, or farm bankruptcy. This means a bankruptcy case cannot be filed in state court. Bankruptcy Appellate Panels (BAPs) are 3-judge panels authorized to hear appeals of bankruptcy court decisions. These panels are a unit of the federal courts of appeals, and must be established by that circuit. Five circuits have established panels: First Circuit, Sixth Circuit, Eighth Circuit, Ninth Circuit, and Tenth Circuit.
Slaughter-House Cases (1873)
In the mid nineteenth century, a mile and a half upstream from the city of New Orleans, 1,000 butchers gutted more than 300,000 animals per year. Animal entrails (known as offal), dung, blood, and urine contaminated New Orleans’s drinking water, which was implicated in cholera outbreaks among the population.
To try to control the problem, a New Orleans grand jury recommended that the slaughterhouses be moved south, but since many of the slaughterhouses were outside city limits, the grand jury’s recommendations carried no weight. The city appealed to the state legislature.
As a result, in 1869, the Louisiana legislature passed “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,” which allowed the city of New Orleans to create a corporation that centralized all slaughterhouse operations in the city. At the time, New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia had similar provisions to confine butchers to areas in order to keep offal from contaminating the water supply.
The legislature chartered a private corporation, the Crescent City Live-Stock Landing and Slaughter-House Company, to run a Grand Slaughterhouse at the southern part of the city, opposite the Mississippi River. Crescent City would not slaughter beef itself but act as a franchise corporation, by renting out space to other butchers in the city for a fee, under a designated maximum.
The statute also granted “sole and exclusive privilege of conducting and carrying on the livestock landing and slaughterhouse business within the limits and privilege granted by the act, and that all such animals shall be landed at the stock landings and slaughtered at the slaughterhouses of the company, and nowhere else. Penalties are enacted for infractions of this provision, and prices fixed for the maximum charges of the company for each steamboat and for each animal landed”. The exclusivity would last for a period of 25 years. All other slaughterhouses would be closed up, forcing butchers to slaughter within the operation set up by Crescent City.
The statute forbade Crescent City from favoring one butcher over another by promising harsh penalties for refusal to sell space to any butcher. All animals on the premises would be inspected by an officer appointed by the governor of the state.
Over 400 members of the Butchers’ Benevolent Association joined together to sue to stop Crescent City’s takeover of the slaughterhouse industry. Six cases were appealed to the Supreme Court.
The butchers based their claims on the due process, privileges or immunities, and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, which had been ratified by the states five years earlier. It had been passed with the intention of protecting the civil rights of the millions of newly emancipated freedmen in the South, who had been granted citizenship in the United States.
Q: Did the creation of the monopoly violate the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments?
A: No. The Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies to national citizenship, not to state citizenship
5-4 decision ruling the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution only protects the legal rights that are associated with federal citizenship, not those that pertain to state citizenship. The Court held to a narrower interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment than the plaintiffs urged, ruling that it was intended primarily to protect former slaves and did not restrict the police powers to regulate butchers exercised by Louisiana. In effect, the clause was interpreted to convey limited protection pertinent to a small minority of rights, such as the right to seek federal office.
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