Lesson Plan: Landmark Supreme Court Case: Slaughterhouse Cases

Landmark Cases: Slaughterhouse Cases: Reconstruction Era Background

Former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement and UMD History Professor Michael Ross talked about the black codes and the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments during the Reconstruction Era after the end of the Civil War.


The Supreme Court has the power to interpret the Constitution. Its rulings on cases determine the meaning of laws and acts of Congress and the president. Knowing the key decisions of the Supreme Court and the precedents they set is vital in understanding the meaning of laws, how our country has changed over time, and the direction the country is currently headed. In this lesson students will examine the Slaughterhouse Cases.


  • STEP 1.

    As a class, view the following videos and answer the questions below to lay the foundation for students to understand this case:

    VIDEO CLIP: Reconstruction Era Background(6:04)

    VIDEO CLIP: Reconstruction in New Orleans and Slaughterhouse Background (2:55)

    • Explain why Sen. Patrick Leahy describes the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments as part of the “second founding.”

    • Describe the circumstances surrounding the passing of the 14th amendment. Explain the importance of its passage as it relates to Reconstruction in the South.

    • Explain the view of Reconstruction and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments by Southerners.

    • Describe the situation in New Orleans after the Civil War.

    • Explain the situation of butchers and slaughterhouses in New Orleans during this time.
  • STEP 2.

    Students can either work independently or in groups to view the following video clips. They should take notes using the handout below:

    Handout: Supreme Court Case: Slaughterhouse Cases (Google Doc)

  • VIDEO CLIP: Reasons for Litigation (8:30)

    • Describe the system of slaughterhouses and butcher shops in New Orleans in the 1860s. What were the results of this system?

    • How did the citizens of New Orleans seek redress from the slaughterhouses? What were the initial results?

    • Explain the role of the Louisiana legislature in the fight over the regulation of the slaughterhouses.
  • VIDEO CLIP: Heart of the Case (3:57)

    • Describe the situation for butchers in New Orleans following the Slaughterhouse Act of 1869.

    • What was the heart of the case that the butchers took to the Louisiana courts? Describe the “opportunity” that lawyers representing the butchers saw in the wording of the 14th amendment.

    • How are the butchers and the case itself seen by the people of New Orleans? In what way was it ironic?
  • VIDEO CLIP: The Decision (1:33)

    • Explain the arguments in the majority and dissenting opinions in the Slaughterhouse Case decision.

    • Describe Justice Samuel Miller’s decision on citizenship, as written in his majority opinion.
  • VIDEO CLIP: Impact and Legal Questions (2:13)

    • Why did the Slaughterhouse Case have to be heard twice?

    • Explain the four issues that are before the court.

    • Explain how the legacy of the case is tied to more than the actual decision of the Court.
  • VIDEO CLIP: Legacy (2:27)

    • Explain the significance of the Slaughterhouse Cases decision in relation to the 14th Amendment.

    • Describe the impact of the decision on the Privileges or Immunities Clause and the Bill of Rights.

    • What impact did the decision have on Reconstruction policy?
  • STEP 3.

    As a class, discuss the significance of this case, the precedent it set, and its legacy.

  • STEP 4.

    Choose an activity from C-SPAN Classroom's Deliberations site to engage in a structured student-centered analysis of the case.

Additional Resource


  • 13th Amendment
  • 14th Amendment
  • 15th Amendment
  • Black Codes
  • Carpetbaggers
  • Confederacy
  • Dissenting Opinion
  • Dred Scott Case
  • Due Process
  • Equal Protection Clause
  • Impetus
  • Integration
  • Judicial Review
  • Jurisdiction
  • Majority Opinion
  • Monopoly
  • Privileges Or Immunities
  • Reconstruction
  • Redress


Judicial BranchSupreme Court CasesU.S. History


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