How Animal Guts Gutted the 14th Amendment | The Slaughterhouse Cases
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How Animal Guts Gutted the 14th Amendment | The Slaughterhouse Cases

Mr. Beat presents Supreme Court Briefs New Orleans, Louisiana
1867 3,000 residents die from cholera, a horrible disease characterized by having violent diarrhea until you’re dehydrated. How did they get cholera? From drinking the water. This is not surprising, as New Orleans water at the time was filthy. The president of the Board of Health testified, “When the river is low, it is not uncommon to see intestines and portions of putrefied animal matter lodged immediately around the pipes.” That’s right. Animal guts were in the drinking water, and citizens were dying horrible deaths after drinking it. So how did the animal guts get in the drinking water in the first place? Well, just outside of the city, around 1,000 butchers gutted over 300,000 animals per year. New Orleans begged the Louisiana state legislature to do something about it. They did, passing a law that granted a monopoly to the Crescent City Livestock Landing and Slaughtering Company, saying that only it could run a slaughterhouse in New Orleans. The company would not actually butcher animals, but rent out space to other butchers in the city for a fee. Well, it turns out the Crescent City folks had bribed the Louisiana legislature to give them the monopoly, and a bunch of butchers didn’t like this so much. More than 400 butchers of the Butchers’ Benevolent Association- what a great name- joined up to sue the Crescent City Company, saying that their monopoly created involuntary servitude, which went against the 13th Amendment of the Constitution. They also argued the monopoly prevented them from getting property and hurt their freedom to make money, bringing up the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the recently ratified 14th Amendment. There were many lawsuits, and the butchers lost every single one of them. However, six of the butchers appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which agreed with the lower courts. So the butchers appealed again to the Supreme Court, since this is a Supreme Court Briefs episode, ya know, and the Court agreed to look at their cases, hearing oral arguments in January and February of 1873. Remember, the 14th Amendment had passed less than five years prior, and the Court was still trying to figure out its implications. John A. Campbell, who represented the butchers and used to be a federal judge but stepped down due to his Confederate loyalties, argued that the 14th Amendment should be interpreted broadly to protect equality not just for the recently freed slaves, but all Americans. Matthew H. Carpenter, who represented Louisiana, argued the monopoly of the Crescent City Company was justified as a way to protect public health and safety. The Court announced their decision on April 14, 1873. They sided with Louisiana. It was a close one. 5-4. The Court held the monopoly did not go against the 13th and 14th Amendments because the 13th was about ending slavery and the 14th was about then giving equality to former slaves. In other words, you couldn’t expand those two Amendments to all groups of people. Justice Samuel Miller wrote the opinion. He wrote that no, the butchers “privileges or immunities” were not violated, and went back to Article 4, Section 2 of the Constitution for context when looking at the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment. Miller said the two clauses protected two different bundles of rights. Article 4, Section 2 was about protecting the rights of STATE citizenship, while the 14th Amendment was about protecting the rights of NATIONAL citizenship. Miller basically said the Privileges or Immunities Clause only applied in areas controlled by the federal government you know…like ports and waterways. This was literally the opposite of what the dude who WROTE the 14th Amendment had in mind. That dude, Representative John Bingham, had explained on the House floor after he wrote it that the Privileges or Immunities Clause was meant to give the federal government power to enforce the Bill of Rights against the states. So yeah, Miller gave a very narrow interpretation of the 14th Amendment, essentially making the Privileges or Immunities Clause meaningless. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Field said Miller basically made the 14th Amendment a “vain and idle enactment.” Salty. Regardless, the Slaughterhouse Cases mos def weakened the 14th Amendment. However, years later the Supreme Court would return to the 14th Amendment time and time and time and time again, using both the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause instead to expand civil rights. So the Crescent City Company got to keep their monopoly, uhhh…but only until 1879, when Louisiana ended up banning slaughterhouse monopolies. Oh, and despite its shadiness, the monopoly ended up having a positive impact on New Orleans. No more animal guts filled the streets and got into the drinking water. Yay! I’ll see you for the next Supreme Court case, jury! A shout out to fellow high school government teacher Kit Walker, who is also a Patreon supporter who also suggested The Slaughterhouse Cases for the Supreme Court Briefs series. I took Kit’s suggestion because Kit is a supporter on Patreon. And you may have noticed I haven’t made as many of these lately. Supreme Court Briefs videos don’t do that well on this channel, so maybe that can change beginning now. Like this video. Share it. In fact, if I get at least 1,000 likes on this video within the first 48 hours of release I will walk into Starbucks with my Napoleon hat on.


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