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Groves v. Slaughter

    Citation. 40 U.S. 449 (1841).

    Brief Fact Summary.

    A provision of the Mississippi constitution disallowed bringing slaves into the state for sale. This prohibition was challenged as being an unlawful restriction of interstate commerce in violation of the Commerce Clause. (The remainder of the factual background and procedural posture is omitted from the casebook.) 

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    (The Court did not address the constitutional question presented. A rule of law is omitted from the casebook.)

    Facts.

    A provision of the Mississippi constitution disallowed bringing slaves into the state for sale. This prohibition was challenged as being an unlawful restriction of interstate commerce in violation of the Commerce Clause. (The remainder of the factual background and procedural posture is omitted from the casebook.)

    Issue.

    Is a state constitutional provision disallowing the bringing of slaves into the state for sale a violation of the Commerce Clause?

    Held.

    (Thompson, J.) The constitutional issue is not reached because Mississippi has not enacted activating legislation needed to implement the provision.

    Concurrence.

    (McLean, J.) Slaves are not merchandise and states are free to deal with slavery as they wish. The matter is one of local concern and the states have the right to legislate on this issue that goes beyond the authority granted to states by the Constitution and becomes a matter of self-preservation.

    (Taney, C.J.) The regulation of slavery is left entirely to the states. Congress has no authority to interfere.

    (Baldwin, J.) Slaves are merchandise and Congress may regulate interstate slave trade under the Commerce Clause. Each state may determine whether or not slaves are property. Once a state determines that slaves are property, Congress may regulate the commerce of slaves as it may any other items of commerce. States may regulate its internal slave trade, but regulations that extend to other states or citizens of other states are limited by the Privileges and Immunities Clause. The Mississippi provision at issue is unconstitutional. 

    Discussion.

    The case does not represent significant precedent, but reveals the difficulty the Court’s justices had in addressing issues of slavery.


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