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The Top 10 Fourteenth Amendment Cases
14th Amendment
Political Studies

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Corfield v. Coryell (1823)
Background: Federal circuit court case that gave jurisprudential interpretation to the “privileges and immunities clause,” Article IV, Section 2.

Significance: Bushrod Washington wrote that the privileges and immunities referred to by the clause stipulated that certain “fundamental” privileges and immunities belong “of right” to citizens of “all free governments.” These are: protection by the government, enjoyment of life and liberty, the right to acquire and possess property of
every kind, pursue and obtain happiness and safety, free travel for the purposes of a trade, claim the benefit of the writ of habeas corpus, take, hold, and dispose of property, real or personal, exemption from higher taxes or impositions than are paid by the other citizens of the state, and elective franchise. Refers to preamble: “the better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship and intercourse among the people of the different states of the Union” to give meaning to these privileges and immunities enjoyed by all citizens. Authors of the 14th Amendment, especially Bingham, referred to Bushrod Washington’s opinion as evidence of what was meant by Section 1’s provision of the “privileges or immunities” due protection by the federal government.
Slaughter-House Cases (1873)
Background: Narrow issue before the court was whether the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibited states from giving some butchers a monopoly on the right to slaughter animals.

Question: Should the slaughterhouse be treated as a legitimate promotion of the interest of the community or as an illegitimate use of government power to advance the special interests of a privileged elite at the expense of the well-being of many others? Was the economic liberty of certain citizens being restricted to further the well-being of the community as a whole, or was the restriction an attempt by special interests to use the powers of government to gain an advantage over other social groups?

Holding: Samuel Miller rejected claims that the constitutional rights of the aggrieved butchers had been violated. He believed the newly entrenched provisions prohibiting slavery and mandating equal protection were means for ensuring the equal citizenship of newly freed slaves and therefore the spirit of the application of the 14th amendment would therefore apply only to that problem of recalcitrant Southern states and no other. The 14th Amendment’s due process clause protected only procedural rights, not substantive rights like the right to practice one’s trade claimed by the independent butchers. For Miller, these procedural rights included access to the services and facilities, especially courts, seaports, and the capital, of the national government, not fundamental human rights guaranteed in all free governments, like the rights to acquire property and practice one’s trade. White butchers gained no new rights after 1865 because the Civil War was not fought to secure their liberties. The “pervading purpose” of the three new constitutional amendments, Miller wrote, “was the freedom of the slave race, the security and firm establishment of that freedom, and the protection of the newly-made freeman and citizen from the oppressions of those who had formerly exercised unlimited dominion over him.” Miller thus wanted to minimize the Constitutional impact of the Civil War and preserve the federal structure as much as possible that had held sway prior to it. The antebellum system had regarded federal constitutional rights as rights mostly against the national government, with the state governments largely free to treat their citizens as they wished. Miller: “Was it the purpose of the fourteenth amendment, by the simple declaration that no State should make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, to transfer the security and protection of all the civil rights which we have mentioned, from the States to the Federal government?”

Dissent: Stephen Field insisted that constitutional rights had been violated. The Fourteenth Amendment committed Americans to protecting fundamental rights of all citizens from state infringement. Field’s Civil War was fought to preserve the natural liberties of all persons. New constitutional provisions were designed to guarantee “the privileges and immunities which of right belong to the citizens of all free governments,” among which was “the right to pursue a lawful employment in a lawful manner, without other restraint than such as equally affects all persons.”

Munn v. Illinois (1877)
Background: The Illinois legislature responded in 1871 to pressure from the National Grange, an association of farmers, by setting maximum rates that private companies could charge for the storage and transport of agricultural products. The Chicago grain warehouse firm of Munn and Scott violated the law but appealed on the grounds that the Illinois regulation represented an unconstitutional deprivatieon of property without the due process of the law, referring to Section 1 of the 14th Amendment.

Holding: Waite, in his opinion, emphasized the long-standing principle that a person’s rights and liberties are subordinate to the general welfare. “when one becomes a member of society, he necessarily parts with some rights and privileges which, as an individual not affected by his relations to others, he might retain.” It is, he wrote, “the very essence of government” to regulate “the conduct of its citizens one towards another, and the manner in which each shall use his own property, when such regulation becomes necessary for the general good.” Waite located the standard that distinguished legitimate from illegitimate regulations by the states in the common law doctrine that “when private property is ‘affected with a public interest, it ceases to be juris privati only’”; this occurs when property is “used in a manner to make it of public consequence, and affect the community at large.”

Dissent: Field dissented, but did not disagree that states could regulate those industries affected with a public interest. He merely charged that the defendants’ business was clothed with such a public interest and that if the principle were not limited in application it might invite interference with a person’s liberty “to act in such manner, not inconsistent with the equal rights of others, as his judgment may dictate for the promotion of his happiness,” including the freedom to pursue such callings and avocations as may be most suitable to develop his capacities, and give them their highest enjoyment.”
Civil Rights Cases (1883)
Background: Group of five similar cases that centered on whether the United States Congress had the constitutional authority under the enforcement provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment to outlaw racial discrimination by private individuals and organizations, rather than state and local governments.

Significance: Bradley pointed out that “many wrongs may be obnoxious to the prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment which are not, in any just sense, incidents or elements of slavery.” Bradley commented that “individual invasion of individual rights is not the subject-matter of the [14th] Amendment. It has a deeper and broader scope. It nullifies and makes void all state legislation, and state action of every kind, which impairs the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, or which injures them in life, liberty or property without due process of law, or which denies to any of them the equal protection of the laws.”

Allgeyer v. Louisiana (1897)
Background: In 1894, the Louisana legislature passed a statute to prevent persons, corporations, or firms from dealing with marine insurance companies that have not complied with law. The purpose of the statute was to prevent fraud by requiring state citizens and corporations to abstain from business with out-of-state marine insurance companies.

Holding: The Court held that the “liberty” mentioned in the Due Process Clause “means not only the right of the citizen to be free from mere physical restraint of his person, as by incarceration” but also “is deemed to embrace the right of the citizen to be free in the enjoyment of all his faculties; to be free to use them in all lawful ways; to live and work where he will; to earn his livelihood by any lawful calling; to pursue any livelihood or avocation, and for that purpose to enter into all contracts which may be proper, necessary and essential to his carrying out to a successful conclusion the purposes above mentioned.”

Significance: Allgeyer marks the Court’s first departure from the procedural due process standard to embrace the more substantive interpretation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment offered to some degree by Field in his dissent in Slaughterhouse.
Lochner v. New York (1905)
Background: The case involved a New York law that limited the number of hours that a baker could work each day to ten, and limited the hours that a baker could work each week to 60. Joseph Lochner, owner of a Bakery in Utica, was indicted on a charge that he violated the law by permitting an employee working for him to work more than sixty hours in one week.

Holding: Peckham began by asserting that “the statue necessarily interferes with the right of contract between the employer and employes, concerning the number of hours in which the latter may labor in the bakery of the employer.” Yet, “both property and liberty are held on such reasonable conditions as may be imposed by governing power of the State in the exercise of the police powers, and with such conditions the Fourteenth Amendment was not designed to interfere...The State, therefore, has power to prevent the individual from making certain kinds of contracts, and in regard to them the Federal Constitution offers no protection. Peckham went on to point out that the Court had upheld many interferences with rights to contract (even “cases which might farily be considered as border ones”), including hours legislation for men working in underground mines and smelters, compulsory vaccination laws, and in general “legislation that was enacted to conservae the morals, the health or the safety of the people.” The central question to be decided in “every case that comes before this court...where legislation of this character is concerned” is whether the act is “a fair, reasonable and appropriate exercise of the police power of the State, unreasonable, unnecessary and arbitrary interference” with a person’s liberty. He concludes resoundingly and boldly by echoing Marshall’s concern for legislatures enacting pretextual laws that seem to meet a constitutionally lawful end but are actually intended to reach unlawful ends. “It is impossible for us to shut our eyes to the fact that many of the laws of this character, while passed under what is claimed to be the police power for the purpose of protecting the public health or welfare, are, in reality, passed from other motives...It seems to us that the real object and purpose were simply to regulate the hours of labor between the master and his employees,” and this amounts to the use of government power to favor certain groups at the expense of others.

Dissent: Harlan led the major block of dissenters had a different opinion about whether the state had successfully asserted a neutral interest in this contractural relationship. “While the court has held...that the police power cannot be put forward as an excuse for oppressive and unjust legislation, it may be lawfully resorted to for the purpose of preserving the public health, safety or morals, or the abatement of public nuisances.” It was plain that the statute was enacted in order to protect the physical well- being of those who work in bakery and confectionary establishments, citing evidence. It may be, Harlan proclaims, that the statute had its origins in the belief that employers and employes in such establishments were not upon equal footing and that the necessities of the latter often compelled them to submit to such exactions as unduly taxed their strength. But, it is wrong to presume that the State of New York has acted in bad faith. Nor can we assume, that its legislature acted without due deliberation, or that it did not determine this question upon the fullest attainable information, and for the common good.
Adkins v. Childrens’s Hospital (1923)
Background: The District of Columbia enacted a minimum wage law for women and children, challenged under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

Holding: Sutherland noted that while there is “no such thing as absolute freedom of contract...parties have an equal right to obtain from each other the best terms they can as the result of private bargaining,” without the state interfering on behalf of one of the parties to this social competition. Thus, the clear concern from class legislation. In referencing Munn, Sutherland acknowledged that property “devoted to a public use...may be controlled by the public for the common good”; states may use their police powers to prescribe the character, methods, and time for payment of wages “to prevent unfair and perhaps fraudulent methods in the payment of wages” due to workers; but, these statutes “deal with incidents of the employment having no necessary effect upon the heart of the contract, that is, the amount of wages to be paid and received.” Government can regulate the conditions of employment, but not the prince to be paid for labor. This strikes too deeply at the heart of the freedom of contract.

Dissent: Dissenters on the whole suggested that the question in police power cases was not whether liberty was being interfered with; but whether a legislative interference with liberty was reasonably related to a legitimate government interest, an interest distinct from a desire to intervene in social conflicts on behalf of favored groups. For Taft, in particular, the legislation was intended enough to promote health and safety and thus fell under the reasonable use of police powers by the legislature. “It is not the function of this Court to hold congressional acts invalid simply because they are passed to carry out economic views which the Court believes to be unwise or unsound,” he wrote.

Significance: It established a new “rational basis” standard for judging such legislation.
Plessy v Ferguson (1896)
Background: The state of Louisiana enacted a law that required separate railway cars for blacks and whites. In 1892, Homer Adolph Plessy -- who was seven-eighths Caucasian -- took a seat in a "whites only" car of a Louisiana train. He refused to move to the car reserved for blacks and was arrested.

Question: Is Louisiana's law mandating racial segregation on its trains an unconstitutional infringement on both the privileges and immunities and the equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Holding: No, the state law is within constitutional boundaries. The majority, in an opinion authored by Justice Henry Billings Brown, upheld state-imposed racial segregation. The justices based their decision on the separate-but-equal doctrine, that separate facilities for blacks and whites satisfied the Fourteenth Amendment so long as they were equal. (The phrase "separate but equal" was not part of the opinion.) Justice Brown conceded that the 14th Amendment intended to establish absolute equality for the races before the law. But Brown noted that "in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races unsatisfactory to either." In short, segregation does not in itself constitute unlawful discrimination.
Gitlow v. New York (1925)
Background: Gitlow, a socialist, was arrested for distributing copies of a "left-wing manifesto" that called for the establishment of socialism through strikes and class action of any form. Gitlow was convicted under a state criminal anarchy law, which punished advocating the overthrow of the government by force. At his trial, Gitlow argued that since there was no resulting action flowing from the manifesto's publication, the statute penalized utterences without propensity to incitement of concrete action. The New York courts had decided that anyone who advocated the doctrine of violent revolution violated the law.

Question: Is the New York law punishing advocacy to overthrow the government by force an unconstitutional violation of the free speech clause of the First Amendment?

Holding: Threshold issue: Does the First Amendment apply to the states? Yes, by virtue of the liberty protected by due process that no state shall deny (14th Amendment). On the merits, a state may forbid both speech and publication if they have a tendency to result in action dangerous to public security, even though such utterances create no clear and present danger. The rationale of the majority has sometimes been called the "dangerous tendency" test. The legislature may decide that an entire class of speech is so dangerous that it should be prohibited. Those legislative decisions will be upheld if not unreasonable, and the defendant will be punished even if her speech created no danger at all.
Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
Background: This case was the consolidation of four cases arising in separate states relating to the segregation of public schools on the basis of race. In each of the cases, African American minors had been denied admittance to certain public schools based on laws allowing public education to be segregated by race. They argued that such segregation violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The plaintiffs were denied relief based on the precedent set by Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the “separate but equal” doctrine that stated separate facilities for the races was constitutional as long as the facilities were “substantially equal.” In the case arising from Delaware, the Supreme Court of Delaware ruled that the African American students had to be admitted to the white public schools because of their higher quality facilities.

Question: Does the segregation of public education based solely on race violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Holding: Yes. Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion of the unanimous Court. The Supreme Court held that “separate but equal” facilities are inherently unequal and violate the protections of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court also held that the segregation of public education based on race instilled a sense of inferiority that had a hugely detrimental effect on the education and personal growth of African American children.
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