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Slaughter-House Cases

Citation. 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36 (1873)
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Citation. 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36 (1873)

Brief Fact Summary.

Butchers in Louisiana challenged the state statute that prohibited slaughtering animals in Louisiana and that required butchers to slaughter only at a certain place and pay a utility fee.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The entire domain of the privileges and immunities of citizens of the States lay within the constitutional and legislative power of the States, and without that of the Federal Government, with the exception of a few restrictions.


The statute at issue was passed in 1869 and was entitled “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 Live-Stock Landing and Slaughter-House Company.” The statute states that the company shall have the sole and exclusive privilege of conducting and carrying on the live-stock landing and slaughter-house 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 slaughter-houses of the company and prices fixed for the maximum charges of the company. The statute makes it the duty of the company to permit anyone to slaughter animals in their slaughter-houses under a heavy penalty for each refusal. This statute was criticizes as creating a monopoly and depriving a large and meritorious class of citizens of the right to exercise their trade.


Does the Louisiana statute that prohibited slaughtering animals in Louisiana and required butchers to slaughter only at a certain place and pay a utility fee violate the Constitution?


No, the constitutional provisions did not create privileges and immunities of citizens of each State. They mention no security for the citizen of the State in which they were claimed or exercised. Nor did they profess to control the power of the State governments over the rights of its own citizens. Their sole purpose was to declare to the several States, that whatever those rights, as you grant or establish them to your own citizens, or as you limit or qualify, or impose restrictions on their exercise, the same shall be the measure of the rights of citizens of other States within your jurisdiction. Because the statute at issue discriminates between in-State citizens and those from out-of-states, it violates the Constitution.


Justice Field and Bradley

Field: The amendment does not attempt to confer any new privileges or immunities upon citizens, or to enumerate or define those already existing. It assumes that there are such privileges and immunities which belong of right to citizens as such, and ordains that they shall not be abridged by State legislation. If this inhibition has no reference to privileges and immunities of this character, but only refers to such privileges and immunities as were before its adoption, it was a vain and idle enactment, which accomplished nothing. With privileges and immunities thus designated or implied no State could ever have interfered by its laws, and no new constitutional provision was required to inhibit such reference.

Bradley: The right of a State to regulate the conduct of its citizens is undoubtedly a very broad and extensive ones, and not to be lightly restricted. But there are certain fundamental rights which this right of regulation cannot infringe. This includes the rights of citizens of any free government. Citizenship means nothing. It has certain privileges and immunities attached to it which the government cannot take away or impair. It may do so temporarily by force, but it cannot do so by right. And these privileges and immunities attach as well to citizenship of the United States as to citizenship of the States.


The language is, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” It is remarkable, if this clause was intended as a protection to the citizen of a State against the legislative power of his own State, that the word citizen of the State should be left out when it is so carefully used, and used in contradistinction to citizens of the United States, in the very sentence which precedes it. It is too clear for argument that the change in phraseology was adopted understandingly and with a purpose. Of the privileges and immunities of the citizen of the United States, and of the privileges and immunities of the citizens of the State, and what they respectively are, the Court will consider; but it is only the former which are placed by this clause under the protection of the Constitution, and that the latter, whatever they may be, are not intended to have any additional protection by this paragraph of the amendment. If then, there is a difference between the privileges and immunities belonging to a citizen of the United States, and those belonging to the citizen of the State as such the latter must rest for their security and protection where they have rested in the Constitution; for they are not embraced by the Constitution.

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