The Fourteenth Amendment states “no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” So, how is privileges or immunities defined?
The Slaughter-House Cases
83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36 (1873).
The slaughter-houses lost and appealed.
What are the privileges and immunities afforded to citizens of the States?
The privileges and immunities clause only protects citizen rights that are afforded through the federal government.
The state did not violate the 13th or 14th Amendment. Affirmed.
Louisiana passed a statute which authorized only one slaughterhouse to operate within the city of New Orleans. Other slaughterhouses were required to move their businesses to the outskirts of town, where there was very little business. Consequently, those businesses began to suffer resulting in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the statute. The challenge stated that the statute was unconstitutional because it took away the rights of the slaughterhouses to engage in the economy, essentially rendering them as servitudes in violation of the 13th and 14th Amendment.
There is a section at the beginning of the 14th Amendment that defines the citizenship of the United States and citizenship of the several States. Ultimately, this means that the protections afforded within the privileges and immunities clause are federal based protections, not state based protections. Therefore, the state was free to pass this law because it did not infringe on any of those federally protected rights.
However, the dissent argues that these rights should 1) extend beyond the freedom of slavery and 2) determine that the people have rights and privileges that extend beyond federal government protections. Specifically, they argue that the majority’s reasoning does nothing at all, it is simply a restatement of what was already existing. In other words, the majority’s reasoning would render the 14th Amendment useless because it was simply a restatement of previously existing rights. Because the dissent believes that the 14th Amendment is not useless, it would have reversed the Louisiana Supreme Court.
- The privileges and immunities clause has minimal value when evaluating implied fundamental rights.
- The dissent’s opinion is largely recognized as correct, even if it is not controlling law.
After the 14th Amendment had passed, there was a lot of debate about what was protected. Nobody disagreed that the 14th Amendment established the citizenship of African Americans within the United States. But there was no clear determination of what that meant for other potential rights. The Slaughter-House Cases first addressed this question.
The largest argument presented by the plaintiffs were that their right to occupation was threatened. The majority rejected this argument.
The 14th Amendment language states:
“All persons…are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
“No State shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”
In other words, there are two types of citizenship. A U.S. citizenship, and State citizenship. A very close reading of the text reads that the States are not allowed to infringe on rights that are protected federally. There were only a few rights that are protected federally; the right to access seaports, right to be on the water, etc. nothing that seems too crazy.
However, the dissent states that this thinking makes the 14th Amendment useless (those rights were already protected, the opinion is redundant). Justice Field argues that the whole purpose of these amendments are to interfere with the States ability to regulate. Justice Bradley provides a natural law dissent. That is, there are fundamental rights that should be protected, even though they are not explicitly protected.
So, the takeaway is that implied rights are not found in the privileges or immunities clause.
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