Second Attempt under the P&I Clause

Butchers’ Benevolent Association v. Crescent City Livestock Landing & Slaughterhouse Co. (1873)

111 U.S. 746 (1873)

Vote: 5-4
Decision: Reversed
Majority: J. Miller, joined by J. Clifford, J. Strong, J. Hunt, J. Davis
Dissent: J. Field, joined by J. Chase, J. Swayne, J. Bradley

Notes of Reporter before the Court:

(see for full disposition.)

Mr. John A. Campbell, and also Mr. J. Q. A. Fellows, argued the case at much length and on the authorities, in behalf of the plaintiffs in error. The reporter cannot pretend to give more than such an abstract of the argument as may show to what the opinion of the court was meant to be responsive.

The learned counsel quoting Thiers, contended that ‘the right to one’s self, to one’s own faculties, physical and intellectual, one’s own brain, eyes, hands, feet, in a word to his soul and body, was an incontestable right; one of whose enjoyment and exercise by its owner no one could complain, and one which no one could take away. More than this, the obligation to labor was a duty, a thing ordained of God, and which if submitted to faithfully, secured a blessing to the human family.’

Now, the act of the Louisiana legislature was in the face of all these principles; it made it unlawful for men to use their own land for their own purposes; made it unlawful to any except the seventeen of this company to exercise a lawful and necessary business for which others were as competent as they, for which at least one thousand persons in the three parishes named had qualified themselves, had framed their arrangements in life, had invested their property, and had founded all their hopes of success on earth. The act was a pure MONOPOLY; as such against common right, and void at the common law of England. And it was equally void by our own law.

But if this monopoly were not thus void at common law, would be so under both the thirteenth and the fourteenth amendments.

Lest some competitor may present more tempting or convenient arrangements, the act directs that all of these shall be closed on a particular day, and prohibits any one from having, keeping, or establishing any other; and a peremptory command is given that all animals shall be sheltered, preserved, and protected by this corporation, and by none other, under heavy penalties.

Is not this ‘a servitude?’ Might it not be so considered in a strict sense? It is like the ‘thirlage’ of the old Scotch law and the banalites of seignioral France; which were servitudes undoubtedly. But, if not strictly a servitude, it is certainly a servitude in a more popular sense, and, being an enforced one, it is an involuntary servitude.

The act is even more plainly in the face of the fourteenth amendment. That amendment was a development of the thirteenth, and is a more comprehensive exposition of the principles which lie at the foundation of the thirteenth.

But the fourteenth amendment does define citizenship and the relations of citizens to the State and Federal government. It ordains that ‘all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the State where they reside.’ Citizenship in a State is made by residence and without reference to the consent of the State. Yet, by the same amendment, when it exists, no State can abridge its privileges or immunities.

The States in their closest connection with the members of the State, have been placed under the oversight and restraining and enforcing hand of Congress. The purpose is manifest, to establish through the whole jurisdiction of the United States ONE PEOPLE, and that every member of the empire shall understand and appreciate the fact that his privileges and immunities cannot be abridged by State authority; that State laws must be so framed as to secure life, liberty, property from arbitrary violation and secure protection of law to all. Thus, as the great personal rights of each and every person were established and guarded, a reasonable confidence that there would be good government might seem to be justified. The amendment embodies all that the statesmanship of the country has conceived for accommodating the Constitution and the institutions of the country to the vast additions of territory, increase of the population, multiplication of States and Territorial governments, the annual influx of aliens, and the mighty changes produced by revolutionary events, and by social, industrial, commercial development. It is an act of Union, an act to determine the reciprocal relations of the millions of population within the bounds of the United States—the numerous State governments and the entire United States administered by a common government—that they might mutually sustain, support, and co-operate for the promotion of peace, security, and the assurance of property and liberty.

From whatever cause originating, or with whatever special and present or pressing purpose passed, the fourteenth amendment is not confined to the population that had been servile, or to that which had any of the disabilities or disqualifications arising from race or from contract …

The only question then is this: ‘When a State passes a law depriving a thousand people, who have acquired valuable property, and who, through its instrumentality, are engaged in an honest and necessary business, which they understand, of their right to use such their own property, and to labor in such their honest and necessary business, and gives a monopoly, embracing the whole subject, including the right to labor in such business, to seventeen other persons—whether the State has abridged any of the privileges or immunities of these thousand persons?’

MR. JUSTICE MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.

The appellee brought a suit in the Circuit Court to obtain an injunction against the appellant forbidding the latter from exercising the business of butchering, or receiving and landing livestock intended for butchering, within certain limits in the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Bernard, and obtained such injunction by a final decree in that court …

The ground on which this suit was brought and sustained is that the plaintiffs had the exclusive right to have all such stock landed at their stock-landing place, and butchered at their slaughter-house, by virtue of an act of the General Assembly of Louisiana, approved March 8th, 1869, entitled, “An act to protect the health of the city of New Orleans, to locate the stock landing and slaughter-houses, and to incorporate the Crescent City Live-Stock Lauding and Slaughter-House Company.” …

The fact that it did so, and that this was conceded, was the basis of the contest in this court in the Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36, in which the law was assailed as a monopoly forbidden by the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution of the United States, and these amendments as well as the fifteenth, came for the first time before this court for construction. The constitutional power of the State to enact the statute was upheld by this court. This power was placed by the court in that case expressly on the ground that it was the exercise of the police power which had remained with the States in the formation of the original Constitution of the United States, and had not been taken away by the amendments adopted since …

The appellant, however, insists that, so far as the act of 1869 partakes of the nature of an irrepealable contract, the legislature exceeded its authority, and it had no power to tie the hands of the legislature in the future from legislating on that subject without being bound by the terms of the statute then enacted. This proposition presents the real point in the case …

While we are not prepared to say that the legislature can make valid contracts on no subject embraced in the largest definition of the police power, we think that, in regard to two subjects so embraced, it cannot, by any contract, limited exercise of those powers to the prejudice of the general welfare. These are the public health and public morals. The preservation of these is so necessary to the best interests of social organization that a wise policy forbids the legislative body to divest itself of the power to enact laws for the preservation of health and the repression of crime.

It cannot be permitted that, when the Constitution of a State, the fundamental law of the land, has imposed upon its legislature the duty of guarding, by suitable laws, the health of its citizens, especially in crowded cities, and the protection of their person and property by suppressing and preventing crime, that the power which enables it to perform this duty can be sold, bargained away, under any circumstances, as if it were a mere privilege which the legislator could dispose of at his pleasure.

This principle has been asserted and repeated in this court in the last few years in no ambiguous terms …

But the case of the Fertilizing Company v. Hyde Park (1879), is, perhaps, more directly in point as regard the facts of the case, while asserting the same principle. … The opinion cites the language of the court in Beer Company v. Massachusetts, already copied here, and numerous other cases of the exercise of the police power in protecting health and property, and holds that the charter conferred no irrepealable right for the fifty years of its duration to continue a practice injurious to the public health.

These cases are all cited and their views adopted in the opinion of the Supreme Court of Louisiana in a suit between the same parties in regard to the same matter as the present case, and which was brought to this court by writ of error and dismissed before a hearing by the present appellee.

The result of these considerations is that the constitution of 1879 and the ordinances of the city of New Orleans, which are complained of, are not void as impairing the obligation of complainant’s contract, and that

The decree of the Circuit Court must be reversed, and the case remanded to that court with directions to dismiss the bill.


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