Law School Case Brief
Butchers' Union Slaughter-House & Live-Stock Landing Co. v. Crescent City Live-Stock Landing & Slaughter-House Co. - 111 U.S. 746, 4 S. Ct. 652 (1884)
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.
In 1869, the Louisiana legislature approved a law titled "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 Landing and Slaughter-House Company." In 1879, the State of Louisiana adopted a new constitution, of which Article 248 gave municipalities the power to regulate the slaughtering of cattle and other live-stock, and Article 258 abolished monopolies. New Orleans municipal authorities enacted ordinances which opened to general competition the right to build slaughter-houses, establish stock landings, and engage in the business of butchering. These ordinances, in effect, repealed the exclusive grant given to plaintiff appellant Crescent City Company by the 1869 law. Claiming an exclusive right for the stock-landing and slaughtering privileges, Crescent City Company brought suit to prevent defendant appellant Butchers' Union Slaughter-House Company from butchering in New Orleans. Crescent City alleged that the constitutional provisions of 1879 and the subsequent City ordinances were a violation of their contract with the State under the act of 1869. The circuit court agreed, holding that the 1869 Act and the acceptance of it by the Crescent City Company, constituted a contract for the exclusive right mentioned in it for 25; that it was within the power of the legislature of Louisiana to make that contract, and as the constitutional provisions of 1879 and the subsequent ordinances of the city impaired its obligation, they were to that extent void. On appeal, Butchers' Union argued that the legislature exceeded its authority because the 1869 act was in the nature of an irrepealable contract.
By granting defendant slaughterhouse rights, notwithstanding the existence of a state statute granting plaintiff exclusive privileges for stock-landing and slaughterhouses, did the constitutional amendment in question impair plaintiff’s contract and violated the Federal Constitution?
The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the circuit court's decree. The Court held that the constitutional amendment effectively repealed plaintiff’s exclusive grant. According to the Court, although the Legislature of a State may give an exclusive right, for the time being, to particular persons or to a corporation to provide a stock landing and to establish a slaughter-house in a city, it had no power to continue such right so that no future Legislature nor even the same body can repeal or modify it or grant similar privileges to others. Moreover, the Court averred that the Legislature of a State cannot by any contract, limit the exercise of the police powers of the State to the prejudice of the general welfare, in regard to the public health and public morals.
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