SUPREME COURT OPINIONS: The Chase Court (1864 - 1873)


OOOOFor each opinion, the author's name name is given first and in full, the following justices joining in the opinion. Concurring or separate opinions are those which agree with the result of the Court's opinion but differ with the reasoning, larger implications, or simply wish to add an aspect not touched on by the Court. Dissenting opinions, of course, are those which disagree with the Court's ruling. There may even be several dissenting opinions, depending on the nature of the several justices' disagreement.

1866 Ex Parte Milligan [71 U.S. 2 (1866)]
Opinion: Justice David Davis
Concurring: Justice Salmon Chase, J. Miller, J. Swayne, J. Wayne
OOOOThe case determined that except for members of the armed services in actual service or in time of war, or in other very narrow circumstances, the Constitution forbids the trial of citizens in military courts.

1872 Slaughterhouse Cases [83 U.S. 36 (1872)]
Opinion: Justice Samuel Miller, J. Clifford, J. Davis, C.J. Chase, J. Strong, [J. Nelson or J. Hunt]
Dissenting: Justice Stephen Field
Dissenting: Justice Joseph Bradley
Dissenting: Justice Noah Swayne
OOOOThis was, as Justice Miller pointed out, the first time the court had to consider the newly ratified 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. The case turned on the suit of a group of butchers located in the City of New Orleans against a Louisiana state law regulating their trade by centralizing the slaughtering of animals in one facility under the management of a private monopoly created by the statute for that purpose. They claimed first, that having to pay the monopoly for the use of its facilities represented a form of servitude; second, that it deprived them of their privileges as citizens (the right to pursue a trade); third, that it denied them the equal protection of the laws (by granting a particular privilege to a monopoly); and fourth, that it deprived them of their property without due process of law.
OOOOIt was Miller's decision that the 13th Amendment in particular, and the 14th and 15th generally, had only been passed to finally outlaw slavery and to correct its lingering effects; that they had no broader intent. He stated that the the words pertaining to citizens in the 14th only created a citizenship of the United States to correct the Dred Scott decision (which had denied Scott citizenship because he was not a citizen of any state). He further stated that the "privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States" were only those already listed in the Constitution as limitations on the states as in Art. 1, § 10 and Art. 4 of the Constitution. Constitutional rights - those prohibitions found in the Bill of Rights - only applied to the federal government; the states were not bound by them. Civil rights, privileges and immunities, and due process claims pertained to the citizen as citizens of the states, and were therefore under the power of the states. Congress and the Court had no power to change or to regulate them, as this was never the intention of the Constitution. In effect, the butchers had no claim in a federal court.
OOOOField's dissent, along with Bradley's and Swayne's, made broad what Miller had narrowed, turning the majority opinion on its head. Basing his opinion in part on the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Field stated that the amendments applied to everyone equally. Further, the creation of a "citizen of the United States" was not a mere technical correction allowing free blacks citizenship, but a wholesale change in the nature of citizenship: "The first clause of the fourteenth amendment changes this whole subject...It recognizes in express terms, if it does not create, citizens of the United States, and it makes their citizenship dependent upon the place of their birth, or the fact of their adoption, and not upon the constitution or laws of any State or the condition of their ancestry. A citizen of a State is now only a citizen of the United States residing in that State. The fundamental rights, privileges, and immunities which belong to him as a free man and a free citizen now belong to him as a citizen of the United States, and are not dependent upon his citizenship of any State. ...They do not derive their existence from its legislation, and cannot be destroyed by its power."
OOOOFollowing on from this statement, Field, Bradley and Swayne all agreed that among the privileges of a citizen was that of pursuing a lawful calling - "the right to pursue a lawful employment in a lawful manner, without other restraint than such as equally affects all persons" - or as Bradley wrote, "Labor is property, and as such merits protection." All found that the Louisiana law had abrigded the privileges of the butchers, and denied them due process and equal protection.
OOOOIn the end, it was the minority's opinion that would eventually prevail, both in the long term with the 14th Amendment's gradual extention of the rights contained in the Bill of Rights to the states, and in the relatively short term of establishing a "right to work", which would place a hold on reform laws regulating wages and working conditions for almost the next fifty years.