Last week, a federal court in Louisiana ruled that a state law prohibiting sales of caskets by non-licensed merchants was unconstitutional. A monastery that has made caskets for over a century sued the state to protect their modest casket business. It should come as no surprise that our friends at the Institute for Justice were leading the charge against the law:
Under Louisiana law, it was a crime for anyone but a government-licensed funeral director to sell “funeral merchandise,” which includes caskets. To sell caskets legally, the monks would have had to abandon their calling for one full year to apprentice at a licensed funeral home and convert their monastery into a “funeral establishment” by, among other things, installing equipment for embalming.
The Honorable Stanwood Duval of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled, “Simply put, there is nothing in the licensing procedures that bestows any benefit to the public in the context of the retail sale of caskets. The license has no bearing on the manufacturing and sale of coffins. It appears that the sole reason for these laws is the economic protection of the funeral industry which reason the Court has previously found not to be a valid government interest standing alone to provide a constitutionally valid reason for these provisions.”
Thus, even though merely economic liberty was at issue and therefore courts need apply only "rational basis" scrutiny to the regulation at issue, this regulation fails for being completely beyond any conceivable rational basis. And indeed, like so many regulations, this one was nothing more nor less than a barrier to entry for small businesses. Established funeral directors had used the power of the government to illegally control the market, eliminating competition and artificially driving up the prices of caskets. Not only was the funeral-director cartel denying the monks their right t earn an honest living, but they were taking advantage of the people they serve (ultimately, everyone in Louisiana) by extracting ill-gotten profit -- often at the time of their customers’ greatest sorrow.
You can read the full opinion here and watch a video that tells the monastery’s story below. Congratulations to the monks of St. Joseph Abbey and the great attorneys at IJ!