Legacy of Slaughterhouse, Bradwell and Cruikshank in Constitutional Interpretation
18 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2009 Last revised: 8 Nov 2010
Date Written: November 14, 2009
The Slaughterhouse Cases, Bradwell v. Illinois, and Cruikshank v. United States, which were all decided between 1873 and 1876, were the first cases in which the Supreme Court interpreted the 14th Amendment. The reasoning and holdings of the Supreme Court in those cases have affected constitutional interpretation in ways which are both profound and unfortunate. The conclusions that the Court drew about the meaning of the 14th Amendment shortly after its adoption were contrary to the intent of the framers of that Amendment and a betrayal of the sacrifices which had been made by the people of that period. In each case the Court perverted the meaning of the Constitution in ways that reverberate down to the present day.
In these cases the Court ruled upon several critical aspects of 14th Amendment jurisprudence, including (1) Whether the 14th Amendment prohibits the States from interfering with our fundamental rights; (2) How the equality of different groups should be determined; and (3) How much power Congress has to protect the civil and political rights of American citizens - in particular, whether the 14th Amendment authorizes Congress to enact legislation to prevent mobs or other private individuals from violating people’s fundamental rights. The Court narrowly construed the constitutional principles of liberty, equality, and the power of Congress to protect civil rights.
Keywords: Constitution, Slaughterhouse Cases, Bradwell, Cruikshank, constitutional interpretation, Fourteenth Amendment, 14th Amendment
JEL Classification: K1
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation